Dammit! You’re a screenwriter. A newbie screenwriter, but a screenwriter nonetheless. You have an amazing idea that you think will make a funny movie. Who wouldn’t want to plunk down $12.75+ to see a film about the time you and your friends woke up stranded in Mexico with no money, no ID, no cell phones, and an 80 year old stripper handcuffed to your wrist?
As soon as you make it back to the states, you rush to your computer to pound out your wild Mexican escapades. One week later, you type “The End,” then email the script to a production company. You rock! They’ll love it, right? Not so fast grasshopper.
A production company doesn’t want your script right off the bat. Why the hell not, you say? Well, it’s the dreaded “we don’t accept unsolicited scripts” thing, meaning you need to be represented by an agent, reputable manager (not your cousin Pookie), or entertainment attorney (definitely not your cousin Vinny) who will submit the script on your behalf. This protects the production company from getting sued by you if your story is similar to a project they already have on their development slate that gets produced at a later time. Trust me, this happens all the time. You aren’t the only one who wrote about being stranded in Mexico shackled to stripper granny.
So, what’s an unrepresented neophyte screenwriter to do? Glad you asked. You send in a logline and synopsis. More on synopses another time.
I receive countless calls everyday from screenwriters who want to submit their scripts. If I had a dollar for each time I’m asked, “What’s a logline” I wouldn’t be sitting here typing this blog post. I’d be basking in the sun in the French Riviera, snacking on caviar and sipping Dom Perignon.
As a newbie, it’s okay to be unacquainted with a logline. But, it’s NOT okay to not know what a logline is AND submit your script to a production company. And by all means, never tell a production company you don’t know the definition of a logline. Fake like you know, then hit Google as soon as you hang up the phone. Not knowing means you are not at the proper writing level where you need to be to play in the big leagues.
So, What Is This Thing Called a Logline?
A logline is a one-sentence summary of what your story is about.
Some people say it can be written in two sentences. I say get ‘er done in one. It’s cleaner. Sharper. And it’s the standard. A logline involves your story’s:
Protagonist – The lead character who the story is about.
Goal – The thing the lead character wants?
Obstacle – The person or thing that’s keeping the main character from achieving her goal.
Here’s some examples of loglines I came up with quickly. See if you can guess the movie or TV show.
An African prince heads to America to find true love before his parents force him into a miserable arranged marriage.
A renowned surgeon who was framed for his wife’s murder is on a bus headed for prison, but when it crashes he escapes to search for the real killer while the marshal is hot on his trail.
Five aspiring rappers caught up in a world of violence, drugs, and police brutality must use their talents to escape before they succumb to the inevitable: jail or death.
A crisis management expert rescues high-powered movers and shakers from ruin as she bends the law to keep her own sinful activities a secret.
A music industry mogul with a fatal disease must keep his illness a secret until his company goes public on the stock market and he figures out which one of his sons will take over after he dies.
Coming to America, 2. The Fugitive, 3. Straight Outta Compton, 4. Scandal, 5. Empire.
Um, That Ain’t No Logline
A lot of new screenwriters often mistake taglines for loglines. They are not the same thing. Taglines are marketing tools used to lure moviegoers into the theatres. They’re those short catchy sentences you see on movie posters. Loglines are not seen outside of the screenwriting world. They are used to entice a producer, agent, or studio to request and read your script.
Here’s some examples of taglines that I grabbed from IMDB.com:
Coming to America: This summer, Prince Akeem discovers America.
The Fugitive: A murdered wife. A one-armed man. An obsessed detective. The chase begins.
Straight Outta Compton: The world’s most dangerous times created the world’s most dangerous group.
Scandal: The secret is out.
Empire: Welcome to the Lyons den.
See the difference? A tagline is an advertisement. A logline is a story summary.
So, before you click send on that email to Hollywood, go back to the drawing board and write a logline that will make them beg for your script.
If you’d like to know more about loglines and need help writing one, stay tuned for my upcoming logline consultation service.