If you want to go anywhere with your film, you’re going to have to write a logline. Here, you’ll learn some basic advice that will ensure that your logline is top-notch.
What Is a Logline?
If you want to do anything well, you have to know what exactly it is that you’re doing. In case you’re still wondering “what is a logline?”: it’s a brief summary of a screenplay that serves as a pitch for your film.
A logline is not a tagline. Most tagline advice that you may encounter need not apply to story script loglines. A tagline is only a few words and typically goes on posters to advertise a film to general audiences. Loglines are marketed to a different audience: producers (if you are a screenwriter looking for someone to produce your screenplay), film festival judges, and film funding platforms like The Film Fund.
It’s more common to first write your script, and then write your logline based on your script after the fact. However, you can also write a logline first and use the logline as a basis to then write a script, if that’s what gets your creative juices flowing.
Loglines should introduce most (if not all) of the following: the inciting incident of the film, the protagonist, and the protagonist’s goal, and the main conflict. These four elements are usually introduced in this specific order, but they can be rearranged if necessary.
An inciting incident is an event that happens to your characters that ends their lives as they knew it before, and begins the next chapter of their lives.
As a result, many loglines end up following this basic format: When [inciting incident happens], a [loose description of protagonist] leads to [protagonist’s goal or duty].
Have the Right Logline Length
Brevity is a key aspect of what is a logline. Screenplay synopses can be numerous pages long, but script loglines don’t even go near such lengths.
You might end up with the problem that your script feels like your baby, and leaving out any important aspects of your film in your logline feels like cutting off your baby’s arm. Or maybe you’ll have the opposite problem. Maybe you want to let the film speak for itself so much that you’re left with an extremely short logline that barely explains anything and doesn’t capture anyone’s attention.
The key with loglines is to hover around 30 words, and have between one and three sentences. More often than not, a logline will just be one detailed sentence. Don’t be mistaken though; just because technically you can rattle out a logline in a few minutes in one sitting doesn’t mean that’s what you should actually do. Loglines deserve your careful attention.
Be Reasonably Vague
When you write your story logline, you’re trying to convey the general idea of your film. You should avoid including specific character names. Instead, you should simply describe your characters. Often, this will mean simply stating their professions, preceded by adjectives. Examples of character types could include “a starving artist,” “a single mother,” “a corrupt attorney,” or any similar description.
In general, though, you should not be too vague in your story logline. For example, if your film falls under the genre of science fiction and doesn’t take place on Earth, that should go into your logline. Likewise, if setting, whether it be time period or geographical location, is integral to the story, it belongs in the logline. This includes all historical fiction films.
Use Powerful Language
If there are unique facets to your characters, you will probably want to include them. If your character has any sort of superpower or any weakness or illness, that is a necessary element to put in your logline. Really, if there’s anything unique about your characters whatsoever, indicating this makes your story logline more rich.
If your protagonist is very ordinary, you can also include this in your story logline. However, you should do so in a way that is routed in contrast. For example, if your protagonist is an ordinary girl, you should stress how in your film she gets caught in an extraordinary predicament.
Good story loglines should also use powerful verbs. You shouldn’t merely phrase your logline as something happening to your protagonist. You should phrase it as your protagonist actively going through something. For example, if the plot of your film is about a man’s struggle with alcoholism, you shouldn’t just say in your story logline that he “deals with alcoholism.” You could instead put something more powerful, like that he “battles his crippling addiction” or “fights to climb out of his alcohol-induced downward spiral.”
There are many ways you can raise tension in your story logline in order to pique the interest of anyone who reads it. You can start normally and then incorporate a major twist at the end.
You can also mention the stakes of the events in your film. If the protagonist must accomplish a goal or else he or she will die, then this risk of death should absolutely be present in the logline.
Make Sure Your Script Logline Is Grammatically Correct
Grammatical errors are frowned upon in most areas of life, and script loglines are no exception. Take the small amount of extra time and effort to make sure that you’re not misspelling anything, using run-on sentences, or employing any other unintentional errors. In general, grammatical errors are a sign of carelessness.
A rare case in which you can employ grammatical error purposefully in a logline is if you are including a sentence fragment for dramatic effect. For example, you can start off your logline by saying, “Fear,” or “Terror.” Just make sure that you immediately follow up with the plot in the next sentence. Be aware, though, that this method should not be used in any situation in which your logline is expected to be one sentence. If you only have one sentence to pitch your film, you can’t waste the opportunity on a sentence fragment.
Make Sure Your Script Logline Is Accurate
It’s great to have a captivating script logline. However, everything you say in the logline should actually be true and present relatively early in the script. If the first 10 or 20 pages of your script seem like a mismatch with your logline, you appear deceptive and the remainder of your script could get left unread.
Things to Avoid
Don’t simply robotically summarize your story. If you use powerful language or raise tension, you should be fine with regard to this.
Don’t give away the ending. A good film should be able to be summarized in a logline without giving away the ending. After all, the purpose of a logline is to get people interested in your film, and part of that interest is the anticipation of waiting to see how the story unfolds and is ultimately resolved.
Examples of Loglines
On The Film Fund website, you can find numerous examples of successful loglines from its winners.
One winner’s logline is: “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.”
This logline follows the order: the protagonist (“a man”), the protagonist’s goal (“struggles to understand”), and the central conflict (“each attempt to build the perfect treehouse leaves him staring at an empty tree with no evidence of previous work”). In only 26 words, this logline fulfills most elements of the typical format, and introduces an amusing story. Here, an inciting incident is not particularly necessary, because it is understood that the story is set in motion by the protagonist simply wanting to build the perfect treehouse.
Another winner’s logline is: “When an undocumented refugee hacker discovers evidence linking a politician to a tragedy on social media, he teams up with a PR director to expose the story.”
This logline follows the order: the protagonist (“an undocumented refugee hacker”), the inciting incident (“discovers evidence linking a politician to a tragedy on social media”), and the protagonist’s goal (“he teams up with a PR director to expose the story”). In 27 words, this logline also fulfills most elements of the typical format. There isn’t a specific central conflict mentioned per se, but it’s understood that the conflict is tied up with the goal of the hacker and PR director trying to expose the story linking the politician to the tragedy.
There are many benefits to having a great script logline that may not even seem readily apparent. If you know your logline by heart, you can much more easily summarize your film when speaking to others in person. Your logline can basically become the hook of your elevator pitch – that is, a brief verbal summary of your script that you can tell investors. If you give a great elevator pitch at an event, you are putting your foot in the door and giving yourself the opportunity to give an official pitch later on.
At The Film Fund, your ticket to obtaining funding for your short film is all based on your one sentence logline (and a brief mention at the end detailing why you require funding). The Film Fund bases funding decisions entirely on quality of the submitted entries. The logline is – quite literally – everything.
If your logline is finished and ready to be put to use, make sure to turn it into The Film Fund’s contests for the chance to win up to $10,000 in funding for your project.