Whether you are pondering a creative movie idea to pursue or sharing your idea with a friend, producer, or investor, you need to know the logline to your movie.
What is a logline? It is a one-to-two sentence summary of your movie that follows a simple structure, and it has several valuable uses.
Your Logline is Your Vision
Loglines are terrific when you are testing out broad ideas for a movie concept. Many novice writers start with a scene to build a screenplay around, or a jumble of different ideas, and then start writing. Bad mistake. Failure looms ahead. Why? Because they haven't distilled the story down to its essence. A logline keeps you focused and honest. It is your "vision" for the screenplay. Plus, it's easier to tweak a short logline than rewriting 40 pages or more of a screenplay because you couldn't keep focused on the story's core.
The other terrific use for having a logline is so that when a producer, investor, friend, or new acquaintance asks you ,"What's your movie about?" you don't spend an hour (or even 5 minutes) telling the whole movie and boring them to tears. Honestly, do you like it when someone spends 20 minutes or more telling you about a movie they just saw, or do you desperately hope that an "important text" will give you an excuse to leave the conversation?
What Your Logline Needs to Have
The formula for an awesome logline needs these elements in this order:
Marlin, a clown fish who is terrified of the open ocean (protagonist description), must search desperately for his lost son, Nemo (objective), as he navigates miles of unfamiliar ocean filled with sharks, whales, turtles and hungry seagulls to rescue his only child (conflict).
– Finding Nemo
Diana, an Amazonian warrior (protagonist description), learns of her special powers as she journeys through the war-torn landscape of WWI Europe to destroy Ares (objective), the god of war, who is the cause of all suffering (conflict).
Luke Skywalker, a young Jedi-in-training (protagonist description), works with a group of rebels to battle against the Empire (conflict) to destroy their giant weapon, the Death Star, and save the galaxy (objective).
- Star Wars IV: A New Hope
What Your Logline is Not
Do not write your logline like the vague, cliché movie summaries that you read on the internet or on DVD covers. They are so nondescript and uninformative that they don’t tell you anything about the movie. They exist to tease your interest enough to watch the movie – to build your curiosity. They are NOT loglines even though they act like them. These teasers look like this:
“Acclaimed director, Jim Bob Jones, brings us a coming-of-age story of a young boy who must race against time in order to overcome his greatest fear before his world is changed forever.”
Yeah, we’ve seen these hundreds of times. It tells us nothing, and that’s fine if you are trying to entice people to watch your already-made film, but it is not a logline. In fact, if you were to tell a would-be producer or investor this as your logline, they will probably show you the door. The logline is the summary of your actual story, not a vague teaser.
Great Logine Exercises
Go through your movie collection and do a logline for each one. Test to see if it works by playing a game with a friend where you tell them the logline (without the protagonist's name) and then see if they can guess the right movie. You did a good job if they guess it right away. If they are stumped, then you need to rework it. Yes, the objective is for them to "get it" quickly.
This next one is super fun and challenging, and I love doing it. Every day take 10 minutes and challenge yourself to write down 10 original loglines. Rules: you can't wait more than 15 seconds to start the next one, and you can't take more than a minute to do one from start to finish. This is a great creative exercise for your brain because you are forcing it to create whether it wants to or not. And you will want to cheat - but don't. The idea is not to come up with good story ideas, but to rather to practice the art of not prejudging your ideas. Yes, many will be terrible, but that's fine. After a few days, you will be able to do this easily and maybe even come up with a logline worth turning into a screenplay!