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The Perfect Formula to an Irresistible Logline

You have been working tirelessly and one day, you run into the perfect producer in the elevator. This is once in a lifetime opportunity and you have less than 30 seconds to sell your story.

You have to compile the gist of the entire story in one sentence, but also make it enticing enough for producers to put their resources behind it. Such opportunities seldom show up again and you must have a sizzling logline beforehand to impress this producer.

That is why it is very important to understand how to write a perfect logline for exactly the similar situations.

How to write a Logline

Logline, or log line, is a much used and more misunderstood term among the script writers.

Basically, it is one or two sentences long summary of the script with the intention to get the audience the main idea of the plot and keep them intrigued about the stream of the story at the same time.

It is also called as the elevator pitch or the 30 seconds pitch. The intention of the logline is to sell the script to a producer in less than 30 seconds. One very important point to note is that although it is the reflection of the script, it is not the point to point synopsis of it.

Logline vs Tagline

Loglines are oftentimes confused with taglines. Although taglines may tap directly into the plots, they may not necessarily explicate the context of the story.

Consider the logline and tagline example of the movie, Social Network.

Tagline: ‘You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies’.

The sentence makes sense for those who have watched the movie already or have a basic idea of what the movie is all about. However, without any context, this line is very ambiguous, and the audience might not understand anything about the context of it.

Logline: “When a socially inept and financially challenged Harvard student’s girlfriend dumps him, he creates an idea to rate the attractiveness of female Harvard undergrads as a way to mend his loss–and his idea becomes a global social sensation that makes him the youngest billionaire in history.”

This sentence is clear, crisp, and gives a good enough idea about the plot of the movie. One important thing to note here is brevity of the sentence as the synopsis of the movie will have more details about the story.

Do not reveal too much

Who does not like cliffhangers? Moreover, who has time for the details? An important thing to keep in mind while preparing a logline is that even though the audience of the taglines are the Producers who will eventually be investing in the project, even they don’t like spoilers just like anyone else. It is very important that you keep the details for later, even the names of the characters.

Consider the movie, Batman.

‘An orphan billionaire vigilante tries to bring order in a city driven by criminals and corrupt officers.’

Not many details about the characters.

The climax of the plot is not disclosed.

Enough information to keep the audience interested.

Don’t: ‘Bruce Wayne, the orphan of billionaire Thomas Wayne, decides to seek revenge from his parents murderer and along the way, he realizes that the best way to honor their death is to bring the order and justice to Gotham City, the city infected with violent crimes and corruption’.

Unnecessary details that may result in loss of time and interest of the audience.

Reveals certain interesting parts of the plot that must have been kept for later.

Although we have mentioned before that we should be utterly careful not to reveal too much, it is still important that the key characters should be strong and make the overall context interesting.

Consider the movie ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’.

The logline for the movie should go like ‘The journey of a common man from surviving poverty and becoming a respected name in the Wall Street’. Here, even the fact that the lead character is a common man makes the overall premises more interesting.

The objective of this is not only to stimulate the curiosity and interest, but also to bring in a sense of empathy and personification to the premises since it is easier for people to relate to the strong characters.

No matter how intellectually sound they are, the people always prefer to save time in processing the information.

Rules to writing a logline

  • Keep your logline easy to digest.
  • Do not include any complicated twists and turns from the plot.
  • Keep jargons to yourself.
  • Never assume the intellectual resonance of your audience with the topic at discussion.

You will get enough chance to include this in the overall synopsis of the script, but the log line is a hook to draw the audience to it.

It can get a little tricky sometimes, for example, consider that you wrote a science fiction script in which you employed your years of research and even formed a panel of experts to come up with something arguably brilliant.

In this case, it might get a bit hard to resist the urge to flaunt the intellectual masterpiece that you just drafted, but we should always put ourselves in the shoes of the audience and not assume the level of intellectual resonance that he/she might have when it comes to the subject in hand.

Know your Antagonist

Antagonists are the elements in your script that empower the protagonists. They are very important element of a story, as well as the log line for the story.

The antagonist does not necessarily have to be a person. Sometimes, the antagonist can be the situation or circumstances. Consider again the example of ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’.

From the logline, ‘The journey of a common man from rising above poverty and personal problems and becoming a respected name in the Wall Street’ we can tell that the antagonist in the movie is poverty that will make it difficult for the protagonist to achieve his goals.

A good antagonist brings out the character of the protagonist must be given adequate relevance in the loglines.

Seek Goals

A story is incomplete without the goals for the leading characters in it, something that the protagonist wants to achieve, and the antagonist wants to deprive the protagonist from. The same thing is also applicable for the log lines. A great logline is dynamic and flows towards the goal.

Consider the logline of the movie Interstellar. ‘In a near future ravaged by drought and dirt storms, a group of space explorers travel through a wormhole to another galaxy to try and find a suitable new home for humankind.’

Here, the goal of the characters, the group of science explorers, is to find a suitable new home for the mankind, which is easily identifiable from the logline alone.

There can be multiple goals in the same log line as long as they are not completely dissociative to each other and may make the audience confused about the actual plot of the movie.

One important thing to be careful while placing the goal in the logline is that you do not disclose whether the character achieves this goal or not. In case of the above example, the log line solely says that the group goes on a space exploration to find a new home suitable for the mankind and does not tells whether the group finds this home or not.

Irony Sells

Everybody loves irony, especially on the screen. If your story has an interesting irony, or if it is the story of an underdog going beyond the odds to achieve something extraordinary, the log line is a place to flaunt it.

The movie ‘Coco’ confirms a great irony about how a child who grew up in a family where the music is forbidden is passionate about music to an extent that he goes beyond his ways to prove his musical prodigy.

Therefore, a great logline for the movie could be ‘A Mexican kid, extremely passionate about music but born in a family where music is totally forbidden, sets out on a journey to follow his dreams and accidentally enters the vibrant “Land of the Dead” where he unravels surprising facts about his family history’.

Irony might make the journey of the protagonist to the goal difficult and people love to root for the underdogs.

What makes the challenges of the protagonist better is high stakes. The log lines are the reflection of the script itself and if the script has high stakes that might result if the protagonist doesn’t accomplish his goal, give a hint in the logline.

Consider the two examples discussed above again.

Interstellar: “In a near future ravaged by drought and dirt storms, a group of space explorers travel through a wormhole to another galaxy to try and find a suitable new home for humankind.”. We can infer that the entire human race will perish of dirt storms and droughts if the group of space explorers fail in their mission.

The Pursuit of Happyness: “The journey of a common man from rising above poverty and personal problems andd becoming a respected name in the Wall Street”. What we can conclude from the logline is that the protagonist might drown into poverty if he doesn’t succeed.

It is not necessary to explicitly mention the consequence of the failure of the lead protagonists. Just a subtle hint might make a bigger impact than detailed description.

There is no one size fits all formula when it comes to writing the loglines.

Here, we are only discussing the guidelines to follow, and the pitfalls to avoid, to come up with an excellent logline.

We have seen some good illustrations and certain key elements to include in the log lines. However, there is certainly no template that can guarantee the perfect log line, just as there is no template that guarantees a perfect story. 

The log lines are merely a reflection of the story and just like the stories, although you can take some inspirations, you must come up with your own to succeed.

Let us break down some of the classic logline examples from IMDB and try to identify the following elements in them:

  1. Setup (definition of the main characters to and create context and empathy)
  2. Antagonists (a person or a situation that makes the journey of the protagonist more difficult)
  3. Action (how the main character pursues their goal)
  4. Goal (desire - where is the story going)
  5. A twist of irony (character begins with one intention and ends with another: inner growth)

Example 1: Fight Club (1999)

“An insomniac office worker and a devil-may-care soap-maker form an underground fight club that evolves into something much, much more.”

Setup: We can clearly see that main characters are an office worker and a soap maker.

Goal: The goal that we can deduce from the above logline is the formation of an underground fight club.

Twist of irony: The writer has beautifully concealed the ultimate twist in the logline by mentioning that the fight club evolves into something much, much more, without explicitly mentioning what it becomes.

Antagonists: In this example, the antagonist is a bit difficult to trace but as we see that the underground fight club that they start becomes much more than what it intended to be, the audience may somehow attribute this to the personality traits of the main characters, i.e., insomnia and devil-may-care attitude, which may eventually deviate the protagonists from their desired goals.

Perhaps this might be the reason why the script writer included these attributes of the main characters.

Example 2: Breaking Bad (2008 – 2013)

“A high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer turns to manufacturing and selling methamphetamine in order to secure his family's future.”

Setup: The main character that we can surmise from this logline is the high school chemistry teacher.

Goal: The goal of the main character apparent from this logline is to secure the future of his family after he is gone from the incurable disease.

Twist of irony: The clearest twist of irony in the logline is that the main character is a high school chemistry teacher whose job is to inspire the children and yet he starts selling methamphetamine that is one of the major cause of destruction of generations all across the world.

Antagonists: The goal of the main character is not to sell methamphetamine but to secure the future of the family. There are two major antagonists that we can infer from the logline. 

First is the health condition of the protagonist and the fact that he might not have a lot of time. 

The second antagonist is the mere fact that he starts selling drugs that might get him into grave troubles. Both the antagonists will hurt the chances of the protagonist seriously.

Example 3: A Separation (2011)

“A married couple are faced with a difficult decision - to improve the life of their child by moving to another country or to stay in Iran and look after a deteriorating parent who has Alzheimer's disease.”

Setup: The main character is a married couple.

Goal: The goal is not that apparent, but we can say that the protagonist wants to have something that is the best for everyone involved, including themselves.

Twist of irony: The logline beautifully stimulates empathy and pity as it leaves the main character in a dilemma to choose between the two generations and both the generations demand similar attention. This sense of empathy makes the logline more engaging.

Antagonists: There are three antagonists in the logline. 

The first one is the fact that the couple lives in Iran which might not offer the kind of lifestyle that they want to provide to their child. 

The second is the fact that the health of the parent is deteriorating. 

The third is the fact that the couple must choose between the two options.

Example 4: Mother (2009)

“A mother desperately searches for the killer who framed her son for a girl's horrific murder.”

Setup: From the logline, we can say that the story revolves around a mother.

Goal: The clear goal in the logline is the search for the killer.

Twist of irony: The subtle twist of irony in this logline is that the mother is looking for a killer to prove the innocence of her son. This logline is particularly interesting because it shows that there is no perfect formula for a perfect logline and there are different recipes to push forward the intended message.

Antagonist: From the logline, it is clear that the son of the protagonist is already framed for a horrific crime. 

One interesting to notice with this logline is the brevity of it. This logline is short, crisp, to the point, and gives enough context, which clearly proves that the number of words does not matter to convey a message in an appropriate manner.

Example 5: The Hunt (2012)

“A teacher lives a lonely life, all the while struggling over his son's custody. His life slowly gets better as he finds love and receives good news from his son, but his new luck is about to be brutally shattered by an innocent little lie.”

Setup: The protagonist in the logline is the teacher.

Goal: The two possible goals that we can infer from the logline are either for the lead character to get the custody of his son, or for him to have a good life for himself, as the logline says that the teacher is living a lonely life, and perhaps his goal might be making it better.

Twist of irony: There is a clear suspense in the plot which we infer from the logline as it says that the teacher’s luck is about to get brutally shattered. There is not a clear element of irony in the logline, however, we know that the life gets better for a while before it collapses. However, one interesting and subtle point to notice is that the teacher is trying to get the custody of his son and he starts receiving good news from his son, but the things go south, which may have something to do with the son. The element of surprise and more than one possible options make the plot more interesting.

Antagonist: Although we know for surface that the things go bad for the protagonist and he probably did not achieve his goals at the end, we do not know what hinders his journey. 

This is obviously the case with any suspense or thriller genre story. The suspense is kept for the last. This shows that we need to adapt the logline based on the nature of the script.

As we can see, there are multiple approaches to a great logline, however, we have to keep on experimenting and put a great amount of attention and creativity into them to raise the chances of your film being financed and into production.

Written by Nikhil Gupta