During the Golden Age of cinema, way before the advent of digital technology, the internet, and the cloud, scripts were stored in massive studio vaults. Stacks upon stacks of scripts. In order to differentiate these scripts, the studio executive would write the title and a one-sentence summary along the “spine” or “log” of the script. This miniaturization of the idea became known as the “log-line.” It was the original Twitter, meant to express as much information as possible in the shortest amount of time. The goal being to express the core concept of the story and hook the reader, making them want more. Based upon the strength of the logline, the executive would decide if they wanted to unstack the scripts and make the film. That is how important the logline was — and still is — today! A logline is an essential tool for marketing your screenplay.
The strength of a logline can mean the difference between a sale or not, your livelihood as a writer, and there are 4 essential elements you must include in every one of your loglines.
First and foremost, character, specifically the hero. You can start by answering these five questions. Who is your hero? What does your hero want? What is your hero’s main goal? Why do we believe in your hero? What makes your hero memorable? Yes, you only have one sentence to accomplish all of this… and yes there are 3 more essential elements to go!
Now give us the conflict. This is more often than not the antagonist or villain, the force going up against your hero. Try answering these two questions. Who is your antagonist? How is your antagonist standing in the way of your hero achieving their goal? The bigger and badder the antagonist, the better!
Next, tell us why your story is unique? What is the element that makes it stand out? Development executives will ask you to give them the “same but different.” They want the same, because “the same” means it’s similar to a movie or a TV show that was successful and found an audience. Success equals box-office or multiple seasons. Box-office or multiple seasons equals money. Money equals job security and happy executives. So give them the same, and then put your own spin on it. Pride and Prejudice… and Zombies, anyone ha-ha!
- The World
Finally, tell us about the world. Where and when is your story taking place and more importantly, what does the world look like?
Let’s take a closer look at the BREAKING BAD logline and dissect our 4 essential elements.
A chemistry teacher diagnosed with a terminal lung cancer teams up with his former student to cook and sell crystal meth in order to provide for his family, his wife, disabled son, and newborn.
1. Who is your hero? A chemistry teacher. What does your hero want? To provide for his family. What is your hero’s main goal? Financial security.
Why do we believe in your hero? A chemistry teacher more than likely knows about chemicals aka meth. That, and people can achieve incredible things when family, love, and money are the motivators.
What makes your character memorable? I don’t know about you, but I’m picturing my high-school chemistry teacher, Mr. Bohon, cooking and selling meth… now that’s a sight to see!
2. Who is your antagonist? Anyone who has seen Breaking Bad knows there are several antagonists throughout the series, Krazy-8, Tuco Salamanca, Gus Fring. There’s no way you can fit all of your antagonists in a logline, besides your antagonists are fleeting devices. When one antagonist is conquered, the next arrives, tis life ha-ha. So the real antagonist it the cancer diagnosis or death.
How is your antagonist standing in the way of your hero achieving their goal? I don’t want to get too philosophical here but if you die, you cease to exist… and if you cease to exist, you can’t achieve your goals.
3. Why is your story unique? What is the element that makes it stand out? We’ve seen shows that tackle themes of “how far will someone go to protect and provide for their family” but never imbedded in the world of crystal meth. It’s the same but different.
4. Where and when is this taking place and more importantly, what does the world look like? Although the location is not specified in the logline (Albuquerque, New Mexico), the “world” is the world of methamphetamine. And I don’t know about you, but when I think of “crystal meth” my imagination runs wild and the world come to life. The term conjures up a world of tweakers, addicts, meth mouth, blood money, hookers, guns, murder…
So there you have it, the 4 essential elements for creating a logline. Once you’re ready to practice, try writing a few loglines for your favorite movies and TV shows. Once you feel like you’ve got it down, reapproach the loglines you’ve written for your own projects. Remember, the strength of your logline can mean the difference between a sale or not. So good luck and happy writing!
Also a great resource from WeScreenplay’s partners at Coverfly: Writing a Riveting Logline for Your Screenplay
Justin Trevor Winters has nearly two decades of experience as a screenwriter, lecturer, producer, and development executive. He began his career working in the Literary Department at Innovative Artists Talent and Literary Agency where he worked in collaboration with established directors, screenwriters, and authors. He later joined Creative Artists Agency, and after assisting in launching numerous projects, began focusing on his own screenwriting career. His feature film debut, Killing Winston Jones, a dark-comedy, starred Richard Dreyfuss, Danny Glover, and Jon Heder. His TV debut, Sports, starred Jessimae Peluso, and was produced by Comedy Central. He is currently a screenwriting lecturer at the School of Film & Television at Loyola Marymount University. He’s also taught at Arizona State University, where he was nominated for an Outstanding Teacher Award. He’s the founder of Sixty Second Script School, an educational website that teaches the craft and business of screenwriting through sixty second daily lectures.