(first published at The Story Department)
Loglines can predict failures. This week, I watched a movie where the writer had not adopted critical notes. The film failed. I’m not saying that it would have succeeded if he had heeded the advice. If only things were that simple.
The draft I read could be summarised in a one sentence logline, and based on that logline I predicted the film would fail.
I am not the only one who makes snap decisions based on the logline alone. EVERY busy film executive does this – every day.
Everyone I know in the film industry works incredibly hard to make a living. You have absolutely no time to waste.
Within this context, loglines are the only tool that allows you to make decisions quickly, and efficiently.
Many writers think they can write loglines. The truth is that only a very few understand this very specific skill. If more writers did, there wouldn’t be so many flawed concepts floating around. I’m not talking about execution now, merely premise.
I have been studying loglines for a long time now, and five years ago I decided to launch Logline It, a website and a community uniquely dedicated to the promotion of effective loglines. Today we have over 4,000 loglines on the site, and over 20,000 reviews to learn from.
Thanks to this site, many writers have perfected their loglining skill, and are now able to judge early on whether they have a story idea that could fly.
A properly written logline allows you to make a reliable snap judgment on the prospects of a project. This is the first of five reasons why the logline is the most powerful instrument to gauge the quality of a screen story.
1. A Snap Decision Tool
The logline is the smallest recognised industry format that allows gatekeepers to make snap decisions to either eliminate a concept from their list, or allow it to jump to the next level (usually the synopsis).
For this reason, loglines are used in trade publications at each of the most important annual film markets: Berlin, Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, AFM.
2. Loglines Test Uniqueness
A properly written logline describes a screen story uniquely. Using three key story elements, it triangulates a film so effectively, it can be differentiated from every other film made or story told.
Using the power triangle of main character, inciting incident and story goal, you lay the basis of the logline – and that of your film’s 3-act structure.
3. It Shows Inherent Structure
Following the right logline format, you will give the reader an exact idea of they key information that will be conveyed in your story’s first act, and a promise of what may be expected in act two.
Most writers who don’t understand this, capture only about the first ten minutes of their story. They’re not to blame; most teachers don’t understand the function of a logline, and teach a format that is way too loose.
4. Loglines Express The Writer’s Vision
Until you understand your story thoroughly, it is impossible to write a logline that does service to it. For this reason, it often takes weeks, sometimes months before a writer is happy with their logline.
By the time the script is finished, the writer MUST be capable of conveying the essence of his/her story in one sentence.
5. Loglines Are A Guide Through Development
Robert McKee talks about the Controlling Idea, and John Truby discusses the Premise Line, but neither are particularly useful when you have to create them yourself.
These gentlemen provide us with extremely vague guidelines, and their examples fail completely and utterly in capturing consistently what is unique about the films they describe. Some of their examples hit the mark, while others don’t. This proves that their approach is not systematic, not reliable – and therefore useless for the working writer.
I’m proud that I have developed a format that is used by every professional writer who has studied with me. Some use it as a basis to build their own version, but they all stick to the foundation I teach, because it is so simple and at the same time effective.
A properly written logline not only helps you capture the essence of your story, it guides you through the writing process. It helps you make tough decisions during development, and ultimately keeps you on track.
If you don’t already master this skill, it’s about time you get to it.