The logline, which is a brief summary of a TV or movie script, is like a work of art in its own way. It takes a special kind of talent and creativity to sum up an entire film idea in one to two sentences. Loglines serve as pitches to producers and executives. A strong logline can be the difference between a project that gets picked-up by a studio and one that’s a major flop.
For scriptwriters, it’s their job to write a fully-developed film, including sub-plots and character arcs. After expanding their ideas into an average of 20,000 words, they then distill it back down to 35 words, a fraction of the original script. For example, the logline for “Forrest Gump,” ranked by the American Film Institute as one of 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time, read: “Forrest Gump, while not intelligent, has accidentally been present at many historic moments, but his true love, Jenny Curran, eludes him.”
Writing Strategies for Loglines
Noam Kroll is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker and director who owns the production company Creative Rebellion. According to Kroll, a great logline consists of three elements:
Who is the Protagonist?
Describe the protagonist rather than using a name, for example “an alcoholic surgeon.” The screenwriter should ask who the protagonist is. Do they have any defining traits or characteristics?
What is the Goal of the Protagonist?
This piece of the logline is “in line with your second act turning point.” Keeping with the alcoholic surgeon example, “an alcoholic surgeon must fight for his job…” Screenwriters should ask what does the protagonist want. What does the protagonist need to do to accomplish that goal?
Who is the Antagonist (and the obstacle of the antagonist)?
Describe what the antagonist is doing and how it sets up the climax of the movie. For example, “an alcoholic surgeon must fight for his job after a disgruntled patient accuses him of malpractice…” Here, the writer asks what defines the antagonist. How does the antagonist impede the protagonist?
there are multiple strategies screenwriters can use when structuring the logline, the above method covers the basics and appears in several approaches. Another method for developing a logline is to read the screenplay from the end to the beginning and ask questions along the way about crucial plot points. Where does the tension in this scene come from? Why does this character matter to the plot?
Learning from example is an excellent way to craft a logline. Here are the loglines from some of the world’s most famous movies to help as you develop your own.
The Shawshank Redemption
Two imprisoned men bond over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency.
The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.
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.
Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back
After the rebels are brutally overpowered by the Empire on the ice planet Hoth, Luke Skywalker begins Jedi training with Yoda, while his friends are pursued by Darth Vader.
A Phoenix secretary embezzles $40,000 from her employer’s client, goes on the run, and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.