Loglines aren’t terribly exciting, but they’re crucial to the process of refining your script, refining your pitch, and generally refining your craft. People generally don’t have time to read 100 or more pages. Most people don’t even have time to write that much. So, when you’re meeting with a producer, agent, director, or whoever, for a pitch session the question you’re going to be asked is: “what’s your logline.”
Then would not be the time to stammer, look at your feet, and go “um…” (more about pitching at a much later date. It’s not as much about writing.)
Now, after that whole spiel, you might be asking what is a logline? A logline is 1 or 2 sentences describing the plot of your film. This is different from themes like we discussed last week. Themes are the grand scope of what your story is about, the logline is more an overview of the actual plot. In Neo-Formalist terms (borrowing heavy from those Russian Structuralism,) the theme is the fabula, whereas the plot and the logline are more like the syuzhet. Although I have never used those words outside of discussing Neo-Formalist Film Theory, and it’s much easier to say this: the theme is the story, the logline is the (condensed) plot.
The logline has to be even more economical, even than script format itself is. You have to, in one or two sentences, describe the following: the protagonists, their primary conflict (your “A” story, more on structure next week,) and any major details. In short, it’s like a really, really, summed up version of your story. You don’t have to capture everything (because that’s almost impossible to do unless you use two very long sentences) but you need to capture enough to make the person who hears your logline interested to hear more.
It’s also important to consider genre, and try your best to capture that in the logline as well. If you want someone to think it’s a comedy, try to make the pitch a little funny; if it’s a thriller, make it suspenseful or scary, and so on, and so forth. After your pitch, you should have the person having the same reaction after hearing it the script would give them.
Writing loglines, besides holding a vital function in pitch sessions, are a useful tool for a writer to focus on. Once you write your logline, you can look at it, and go, “That is what, in a nutshell, my story is about.” Whenever you feel yourself straying away from the theme and the logline, you can use them as tools to go back to wherever you’re going (and perhaps excising those scenes that help neither.)
Instead of looking through a script this week, I’m going to try and do five quick loglines of some popular movies. Can you guess the titles?
1. Three bumbling psychology professors in New York City design a system to catch ghosts, using the devices to go into business for themselves as professional paranormal investigators and eliminators. Although they initially aren’t very good at it, their business starts to boom, and they realize the massive influx of paranormal activity has to do with the return of a Babylonian god and the end of the world.
2. A young girl, Sarah, is obsessed with magic and very immature, and is very upset when she’s forced to babysit her little brother. After angrily wishing her brother would be kidnapped by goblins, she finds the Goblin King has kidnapped him, and in order to save her brother, she needs to go into his magical Labyrinth.
3. Robert Parr is an old, out-of-shape, super-hero, brought into retirement due to bureaucratic interference. He has to come out of retirement, along with his super-powered family, to defeat an disgruntled fan from his past.
4. Charles Foster Kane is a complicated man whose life has been full of corruption, compromise, and tragedy. After his death, more questions exist than answers, which are up to a journalist named Thompson to unravel, especially of his last words: “Rosebud.”
5. Jack Burton is a macho truck driver whose truck is stolen by Chinese demons. Although he’s a complete outsider, he has to delve, along with his friend Wang, into the murky mysterious depths of Chinatown’s demonic underworld.
In case you couldn’t guess, the answers are, in order: Ghostbusters (Reitman, 1984,) Labyrinth (Henson, 1986), The Incredibles (Bird, 2004), Citizen Kane (Welles, 1943,) and, of course, Big Trouble in Little China (Carpenter, 1983).
Next week, I’ll be talking about characterization. Good writing!