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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Loglines: WHAT are you doing?

This post is a follow up to the excellent Twitter #scriptchat a few nights ago on loglines. It underscored just how important the logline is to the modern screenwriter. Take a look at the top eleven unproduced screenplays from Franklin Leonard’s Black List. Notice how strong the loglines are. Some like Prisoners make me want to run out and see the film right away!

So how do you produce a great logline? That’s a question I’ve asked myself several times. In earlier posts I suggested one method. Blake Snyder has his own method detailed in his great book, Save the Cat! There are a dozen other methods or recommendations for how to generate a logline. But it was a tweet by jmiewald that really summed up what loglines are all about. To paraphrase, loglines are supposed to help you focus your story when writing and then help you sell your story. So with that in mind I now say it doesn’t really matter HOW you come up with your logline, as long as it answers two very important questions:

#1

What is your story about?
No, seriously, WHAT are you writing about? Who are the characters? What happens to them? Where does it take place? What’s the theme? What’s the style? There are nearly a million little questions to answer when you set out to tell a story. But it all starts with one super, overarching question. What are you writing about? This is the first big idea that we pull out of the ether, sometimes before we even have any characters. What is your story about? You have to have a solid answer if you want to proceed. That’s because the more solid and concrete an answer, the easier it is to find answers for all the other questions that crop up while writing. That’s how you should first judge a potential logline. Do these first few sentences give you enough to create your story? Do they suggest a story arc? Characters? Situations? Dialogue? Do you know right away how dark to make it, how light? Do you stare at your logline and wonder what next? Then it’s not working. Or at least it’s not working for you. Toss it and try writing another one. Keep trying till something really sticks. Try and find those few sentences that will give you an entire 120 page script. Can you see the beginning? Can you see the middle? Can you envision the end? That’s the kicker. If you can see a great ending for your unwritten story, then you’re on to something.

#2

How are you going to sell your script?
This is the part that drives people up the wall. Most writers still hate taking their scripts to market. It conjures up images of the fast talking agent who wouldn’t know a good script if it came up and bit him, the producer who uses yesterday’s buzz words. I’ve learned to love it. Sure writing is a passion, a craft, and an art form. But after I type THE END it becomes a business. I didn’t spend all that time and effort to not get paid. If I want to get paid then I have to sell. To sell you have to know who is buying and what they are looking for. That’s why I’m a big advocate of living in LA at least for a few years just so writers can talk and more importantly listen to the people in the industry. You need to hear how they really talk about scripts and the industry. Hopefully you’ll make friends with a few of them so you can get feedback on your work. If you’re real lucky they’ll let you email them some sample loglines so you can see what they jump on and what they ignore. It’s worth taking the effort because finding a logline that will excite Hollywood as much as it excites you is the key to breaking in. If you love your logline but Hollywood execs find it boring or not very commercial, your story may be great but it probably won’t be read. If Hollywood thinks your logline is innovative and marketable but you can’t stand it, you won’t be able to deliver the goods. Find where you and the industry line up perfectly. There has to be a spot or you wouldn’t be interested in films at all!

Loglines promise to only become more important as time goes on. As the catalog of old stories and movies continues to grow, the screenwriter of today has a difficult job of staying just a little bit ahead of the curve. The logline promises to be an even more important tool for screenwriting as we try valiantly to stand out from every larger and more complex pack.

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