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Friday, July 3, 2009

Viral Loglines

How do you find out about a new movie? Trailer on the internet? TV commercial? Movie poster? It’s so easy to forget in this day and age but word of mouth is still one of the most powerful ways to disseminate information. People still talk to each other. They call on cell phones, email and now tweet. Your logline is something that can travel through all those medium easily. A really great logline is viral.

In his novel Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson, coined the term nam-shab meaning a kind of computer virus that could be transmitted to humans via speech. A screenplay logline operates a lot like the way Stephenson describes a nam-shab, as information that is easy to spread. That’s the key to successful logline, easy to spread. It expresses ideas that are unique and interesting but in a way that is quick and easy to comprehend. It is a hard, hard thing to really do correctly. Almost like a haiku.

A perfect logline will act like one of Stephenson’s viruses. It will spread throughout any social network it’s introduced to. If that social network happens to be, say, a production company or a studio, it will spread from reader to exec to the decision makers. The great thing is most people realize that if a logline can spread throughout a small group like a production company, it can spread through a larger one like the general audience. If the readers and execs can’t stop talking about a title and 25 words, then there’s a good chance everybody else will be equally infatuated.

The good logline can also mutate like a real virus, changing to trailers and posters that can “infect” other streams. The thing you hear from execs about great concepts and loglines is that they can “see the poster.” That means the logline can be expressed in purely visual terms. This is something a lot of beginners struggle with. They are very good at creating strong visuals in their stories, but when it comes to summing up their story, the key conflicts that drive it, into just one image they falter. A great way to give your loglines more of a “viral” quality, you should practice expressing it in visual terms. What is the key conflict of your story? Who is the protagonist? Who is the antagonist? What is the nature of their conflict? Can you create one image that will sum up all of that? Don’t forget to include your concept in that image.

This is obviously something you don’t want to talk about with anybody but your representatives or your very closest friends. Once you get really good at this sort of thing it really is valuable. In fact most great concepts and loglines aren’t so much invented as they are “unearthed.” They’re floating out there in the pop cultural landscape waiting to be discovered. The problem is more than one person can discover them. A friend of mine had a rock solid concept and logline and had completed a great script only to have a similar project beat him to the market. So work close to the vest and try to work quick (Though you should never rush.)

Create a logline that other people can’t stop talking about and it will spread just like one of Neal Stephenson’s viruses.

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