You have a great idea for a story, but you’re not sure how to write a screenplay. You’ve got a great logline with an idea you can pitch to people, but need help with screenplay structure. Don’t worry, this blog will offer you the tools for how to turn your idea into a screenplay.
We’ll look at several sample loglines and then build them up into a screenplay outline. At The Film Fund, our funding contests are run with one-sentence pitches so we see lots of loglines, and we’re ready to share our expertise.
If you have a project you need funding for, you can submit your own one-sentence pitch to any of our funding opportunities for the chance to win up to $10,000 in funding and other prizes.
What is a Logline?
Let’s start with what the logline is and how to write a compelling one. Sometimes this one line is the only chance you have to grab the attention of a producer or an executive, and that can put a lot of pressure on one sentence.
A logline by definition is a brief summary of a television program, film, or book that states the central conflict of the story, often providing both a synopsis of the story’s plot and an emotional ‘hook’ to stimulate interest. [source?]
From that definition, the logline formula must state the central conflict and have a good hook to get people interested. Loglines also usually include one or two characters in the sentence.
A logline for a film can also often be used on the poster as a marketing tool for audiences. So let’s look at some movie loglines for logline examples.
The Godfather: The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.
This is a great movie logline example because it establishes the conflict as transferring control to a reluctant son. And it also establishes at least two characters, a father and son. This one sentence is also compelling enough that readers will want to hear more.
Forest Gump: Forrest Gump, while not intelligent, has accidentally been present at many historic moments, but his true love, Jenny Curran, eludes him.
This is another great example of a famous movie with a great logline. The central conflict is that Jenny eludes him and as readers, we now know that this film has at least two characters, Forest and Jenny.
This list from Film Daily TV offers lots of great examples of the best loglines in film history. TV show loglines follow similar patterns and are used for the same purposes as in movies.
Loglines are used for advertising as well as for selling screenplays. A single sentence can be enough to pique an executive’s interest in developing your film. They are also used when applying to film grants as an easy way to make decisions about which films to read further into.
With one sentence to convey your entire film, let’s talk about how to write one.
How to Write a Logline
Based on the one-sentence lines from famous films, the way to write your own is to follow the same formula. Start with the central conflict of your story, and make sure to include a main character or two.
If you want to find out if your line is compelling enough, have other people read it. Asking someone to read one sentence is a lot easier than asking them to read a whole screenplay, even a short screenplay, so don’t be afraid to get feedback and keep editing your sentence.
If you’re feeling stuck, you can always use a logline generator as a good jumping-off point to create your own.
How to Write a Screenplay
Once you have your logline, you’re ready to expand it into a full screenplay. One of the first decisions you’ll have to make is if this script is going to be a short film or a feature film. Deciding early is important because the short film structure can vary from writing a screenplay for a movie.
We’ll take a logline example from one of our funded films. While The Film Fund requires entrants to also include how they would use funding to produce their projects if selected as winners, these one-sentence pitches are very similar to loglines.
This example is from Matthew Greenberg and his film “Treehouse:” a man struggles to understand why each attempt to build the perfect treehouse leaves him staring at an empty tree with no evidence of previous work; the funding will go to creating multiple treehouses.
If you want to see how Matthew actualized this logline you can check out his full film on our website here.
If we break down the one sentence, we can expand it into a full screenplay. This first element is the character mentioned—a man. When you begin your screenplay, the characters can be a good starting place.
Building up characters will be important for writing a screenplay outline. Having a good sense of how your characters will act and speak can make eventually writing dialogue and action much easier.
The next element of expanding the logline is the conflict. In “Treehouse’s” logline, the conflict is “struggles to understand.”
When writing a full screenplay, this phrase becomes the character’s purpose: he struggles to understand something, and it provides internal conflict.
The Treehouse logline also contains the phrase “no evidence of previous work.” This bit provides external conflict, which is another important element of any screenplay.
By establishing both internal and external conflict simply and concisely in the logline, there exists plenty to build on when expanding into a screenplay.
The next element of the logline is the action. This has the most potential for expanding into a full screenplay because most of the script will be action. In the case of Treehouse, “each attempt to build the perfect treehouse” represents the action. In the logline, we have a condensed version of the action that will unfold through the entire script.
It can be hard to go from a single logline to a full-fledged screenplay, but by taking these key elements from your own logline, you can build an outline. Then you can use that outline to create index cards for each scene in your film, then write your screenplay from these index cards—a tip we borrowed from Syd Field’s book, Screenplay.
All of this is easier said than done, but free screenplay software is a great tool for writing and keeping your screenplay organized. Or if you want to get serious about transforming your logline, you can pay for a program such as Movie Magic Screenwriter or Final Draft.
Whether you take a whole screenplay and boil it down to a logline, or you take just a logline and build it up into a full screenplay, loglines represent a crucial storytelling tool.
If you have your own one-sentence logline, you can submit it (along with how you would use the funding) to one of our funding opportunities for the chance to win up to $10,000 in funding for your project.