Karel Segers
Oct 4 th, 2015
Blog7 Comments

How Long Should Your Logline Be?

 

Twenty-five words or less.

That’s how long the logline should be.

At least, that’s what people say. But sometimes it’s simply not possible.

I tell my students that the first draft of their logline can easily be 40-50 words. From there, you’ll trim and tweak until it is the shortest you can make it.

Most stories you can easily summarise in this amount of words, even though many writers hate to do it. They believe they are ‘dumbing down’ their story. Well, get over it.

Dumb It Down, Already

Industry professionals are used to reading loglines, and they have no issue with the dumbing-down-factor. If you can’t sell your story concept within those limitations, they surely won’t either.

After all, you’re not telling the story in twenty-five words. You’re summarizing it. You’re giving us the story concept.

Now, some stories have complex worlds, or sophisticated setups. In order to understand what is unique about this, you may have to give us a little more. It’s the part that follows in the trailer after the words “In a world…”

In that case, you may need more than 25 words. And that’s fine.

Twenty-Five Words. (Or More.)

After all, the number is fairly arbitrary. So if you feel you need more, and nobody is giving you a limit, then why not extending it to the length that feels right?

Here at Logline It, like at Screen International, we aim for 25 words or less.

(But sometimes we miss)

Karel Segers

 

7 Comments to this message

  • dpg October 5, 2015

    I think the hard data confirms Karel’s “arbitrary number”.

    When I first started studying loglines, the rule of thumb I read about was 30 words or less. (Emphasis on less.) But as I collected and did a statistical analysis of loglines for stories that actually got made into movies (sample size currently 620), I discovered that more than 60% of them were 25 words or less.

    Well, one might conclude, 40% are longer than 25 words is a sizable chunk which would seem to offer a yellow light, if not a green light, to be satisfied with a logline longer than 25, much longer if necessary to convey the essence of the story (and maybe an extra tantalizing detail or two).

    Well, about 25% of the 620 loglines do fall into the range of between 26-30 words long. So there would seem to be statistical wiggle room for up to 5 more words. But only 10% of the 620 are between 31 and 35 words long. Less wiggle room.

    And none of them are longer than 40 words. Not one. I have yet to come upon a story line that couldn’t be condensed into 40 words or less . (And I am now seeking out more challenging stories — again stories that actually got made into movies — to see if that 40 word ceiling will hold).

    Anyway, I have come to the conclusion that no logline is marketable until it can be written in 40 words or less. Emphasis on less. Less is more when it comes to loglines. Less than 30 words is more marketable than 40; Less than 25 is more marketable than 30. And less than 20 words makes a logline a candidate for the Holy Grail of loglines: High Concept.

    • cynosurer October 5, 2015

      The problem with ‘hard data’ is discerning whether the logline you find is the one that got the script read/optioned/sold versus the logline that eventually gets tagged with the movie. I’ve heard there can be a big difference in the two just as there can be a big difference between the original script and the final movie.

      • cynosurer October 5, 2015

        It reads like your sample study was of original loglines. I am curious as to how you tracked them down. 620 is a lot of tracking. Have you compared then with their final movie logline?

        • dpg October 6, 2015

          I utilized the synopsis and summary of movies at IMDb, of course. Plus the original synopses the movie studio provides to the media at the time the movie is released (easier to obtain for current movies than for older ones.) Plus my own take on the movie, if I’ve seen it. I either copy and paste the ‘raw’ synopsis — if I deem it good enough, or rework it.

          One caveat: My sample includes films going back to the 40’s, which predates the period when loglines came into use. Given the way story ideas were generated in the 40’s, I would be stunned if anyone had to generate a logline for marketing stories like “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “”Casablanca”. And then there are later movies that I know where made without ever having to write a logline. Like “Chinatown”.

          Even so, it is a useful exercise to see if the gist of the plot for those great movies can be summed up in a pithy logline. And, so far, it seems they can.

          • cynosurer October 6, 2015

            I was afraid of that. Loglines for movies are different than a loglines for scripts as success has already been achieved and its more a case of backward engineering than legitimate logline to entice a read. Those loglines invariably ‘work’ because of our knowledge of the finished product. Script loglines must sell an unknown product.

  • Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat October 5, 2015

    Hello dpg,

    This is very interesting. some questions/suggestions:
    – Is Tim right?
    – Is there a relation between the length of loglines and the quality of the movies? (the most important hahaha!)
    – Is there a relation between the length of loglines and the genre, or other pertinent classification?
    – Is there a relation between the length of loglines and the fundamental elements it should give (genre, when, who, what, why, despite, before, …)
    – What are the “plus” (hook, humor…) that make some loglines great despite they are long or short, or they don’t answer every fundamental elements?
    – Is there some “intangible” elements (musicallity,…) that can make a logline sound great despite the lack of fundamental elements?
    – Etc.

    – IMO, this would be a very instructive “bible” for all the members of Logline.It if you posted these 620 loglines and the results of your analysis.
    If you agree, I could give you a hand to deal with this analysis in depth.

    Best.

    JM

    • dpg October 6, 2015

      Jean-Marie:

      Good questions. It seems to me that a correlations between length of loglines and quality of content would be difficult to evaluate as what constitutes “quality” comes down to subjective (non-numeric) factors. However, correlations of length with genre might be an interesting avenue of analysis. Something to think about.

Add a Comment