For screenwriters, developing a logline formula is a smart move because it’s the best sales tool for their work. Using a sentence or two, screenwriters have the opportunity of distilling an entire screenplay down to its salient and most compelling points.
Of course, thinking of it as an “opportunity” is hard. But it’s important to do so. Screenwriters who stop seeing it as an opportunity might start seeing it as (at best) a burden and (at worst) terrifying.
Obsessing over loglines is part of the screenwriter’s trade. Learning how to write one is part of the curriculum in an online Bachelor of Fine Arts in Screenwriting program. Graduates from the program not only feel more confident in their screenwriting skills, but also in their ability to pitch their work to film producers.
What Is A Logline?
A logline is typically just one or two clear, concise sentences. Some set a word limit of around 35 words. A logline should swiftly convey what a screenplay is about, including the main character, central conflict, setup and antagonist. For screenwriters, distilling tens of thousands of words to 30 can seem a bit intimidating.
However, there is no getting around it. Movie producers and the screenplay readers who work for them don’t have the time to read every screenplay. Professional writers must understand their story enough to distill it to its essence. It’s a skill that can make the difference between getting a film or TV script sold or going back to the drawing board.
That’s why developing a logline formula is so important for screenwriters.
Tips For Great Loglines
Aaron Sorkin, the playwright and screenwriter, has written many celebrated screenplays. They include “As Good As It Gets,” “The American President,” “The Social Network” and “Steve Jobs.” He also wrote and produced the TV shows “Sports Night,” “The West Wing” and “The Newsroom.”
For those looking to create a logline formula that will provide them a framework, he’s clearly someone to respect. His advice includes the following.
The Four Elements
While writers can rearrange the order, a good logline must have these four elements: protagonist + inciting incident + protagonist’s goal + central conflict. Whatever the structure of the logline, it must contain these four elements.
Sorkin writes that one sentence is common industry practice, while two sentences are allowed for more complicated films.
Logline vs. Tagline
It’s important for screenwriters to know the difference. A logline used the four elements to describe the main story of a screenplay. A tagline is advertising copy meant to entice people to watch. Examples of taglines include:
- “In space, no one can hear you scream.” (“Alien”)
- “17-year-old Marty McFly got home early last night – 30 years early.” (“Back to the Future”)
- “For Harry and Lloyd, every day is a no-brainer.” (“Dumb and Dumber”)
- “Who you gonna call?” (“Ghostbusters”)
Don’t Give Away The Ending
While it’s important to clearly lay out the narrative, it’s equally as important to not give away the film’s ending. Leave it open as a way to entice them to read the entire script.
He also advises writers to use active, visual language: “Words like “struggles,” “journeys,” and “fights” are much more intriguing to read in a logline than “learns, “wonders,” or “comes to find out.’
Examples of Effective Loglines
For inspiration, here are examples of effective movie loglines.
“Star Wars: A New Hope.” “When an optimistic farm boy discovers that he has powers, he teams up with other rebel fighters to liberate the galaxy from the sinister forces of the Empire.”
“Titanic”: Two star-crossed lovers fall in love on the maiden voyage of the Titanic and struggle to survive as the doomed ship sinks into the Atlantic Ocean.”
“The Godfather”: “The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.”
“Reservoir Dogs”: “After a simple jewelry heist goes terribly wrong, the surviving criminals begin to suspect that one of them is a police informant.”
“Schindler’s List”: “In German-occupied Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazi Germans.”