Loglines and You: How To Get Your Script Read By Strangers In the Industry

A total meet market for wood

A Line Of Logs

Ahh yes, loglines.

I’m sure you’ve heard and read many things about what they are, how to use them, and how to put the right words together to form them. Regardless of what you’ve learned, the only thing you need to know is that for writers trying to break into the industry, they’re pretty much the only shot you have of getting your script read if you don’t know anyone in The Business.

But only if you know how to do it right.

Before I go over how to execute a perfect logline, let’s clarify first what a logline SHOULD be – what it should LOOK like, READ like, and FEEL like.

Now, when I was a lit manager, I got thousands of emails containing some combination of query letter, logline, and/or synopsis. 90% of those emails were unsolicited spam from “Query Services” like Scriptblaster, Equerydirect, and Scriptdelivery, and as a rule they were always promptly deleted without being read.

I wasn’t the only one with that little rule, as pretty much everyone I knew deleted those without reading them. Why? We’ve got enough on our plates between rolling calls, reading scripts, talking to writers, lunches, meetings, and grabbing drinks, to read every single one of those spam emails.

Now, I had another rule that a few of my other industry friends shared (though most unfortunately did not), and that was if we received a personal email, NOT from a service, we’d read them if our day wasn’t too busy. Granted, that was contingent on our days not being crazy as usual, but it was something. Of that 10% of personal emails with loglines/query letters/synopses in them, I can honestly say that I requested only five scripts to read. 5 out of about 200…

Why such a low percentage, you ask? Because the other 195 writers didn’t know how to write a logline to save their lives. Oh sure, they followed steps they must have read in a book – but format alone does not a logline make.

Some books say you should write a “short” 1-3 sentence paragraph to tell the reader your script’s story. I say, bullsh*t. You write ONE sentence, and ONE sentence only, and you SELL the reader on why they should read your script.

Let me repeat that, as that’s an important distinction to make: your goal with a logline is not to talk about or encapsulate the story in (hopefully) an exciting way.  Instead, a logline is meant  to highlight the aspects of your script that would entice someone who didn’t give a crap two seconds ago into wanting to read/know more.

If you can write one sentence that  entices the reader to want to read your script, AND also gives some semblance of what they story will be, you’ve written the perfect logline. Here is an example:

TITANIC

The Way The Books Teach You To Write A Logline:

When JACK wins a trip on the maiden voyage of the Titanic, he finds himself in a world he’s unprepared for. Amongst the opulence of the ship, he falls in love with ROSE, a upper class girl about to be married off to the villainous CAL. Will love conquer all?

Not bad, right? It could use some polish (“villainous Cal” sounds cheesy), but as far as textbook loglines go, nothing stands out as terrible about it. Well, what if you wrote something as simple as:

 

A journey of forbidden love between a poor boy and a rich girl on the final voyage of the RMS Titanic.

Now, the second logline isn’t perfect – but it highlights A: the love story, B: the historic and tragic setting, and C: just from that one sentence, we know what the movie’s story might be like. We excised ALL unnecessary words, details, and kept it brisk, HIGH CONCEPT, and mysterious enough to warrant a read.

The industry always has a boner for love stories, so that’s a selling point. The Titanic, at that time, was a selling point since it’s a big event that had not yet been filmed for modern audiences. And the social class/underdog part of the love story is in itself always a big seller as well.

A Bouncy Castle Titanic. Classy.

 

Notice I didn’t go into any detail – the object of a logline is to whet someone’s appetite. You’re trying to bait them with the mystery – what happens? How does it happen? If you TELL them too much, they won’t have any questions in their mind, and thus, have less reason to read your script to find out.

So, in closing, never ever TELL the story.

SELL the story.

Good luck and happy writing!

 

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26 thoughts on “Loglines and You: How To Get Your Script Read By Strangers In the Industry

  1. Pingback: How to Write an Effective Selling Pitch for a Romance Novel « Never Give Up by Joan Y. Edwards

  2. Michael Walker

    In the years that I’ve spent with acting coaches/classes, all of my professors noticed that I took big risks (performance/writing ect….)and highly approved of so.
    A script I’m writing could EASILY cost hundreds of millions to produce. It’s redonkulous, I know. My concern is that I don’t want to pitch or logline companies that are new or just trying to make it. But I’m positive only a large company (like Touchstone) could honestly produce this idea into a box offices wet dream.
    Maybe I’m in over my head, but then again… maybe not. What do you think?

  3. Michael FerrisMichael Ferris Post author

    Eddy,

    Sorry for the delay in getting back to you – GREAT question!

    First, I would expect 2-4 weeks for an agent or manager to read your script, and another week or so to get back to you. I would make sure that if you have reached that time mark, that instead of sending emails about Halloween or the holidays, that you just send a very polite, but direct email asking if they have had a chance to read the script they requested. We know why you’re emailing – so to skirt around that fact is annoying. Just be direct, polite, friendly, and respectful, and they will feel like they are dealing with a professional, and not just a struggling aspiring writer.

  4. Eddy

    Michael, do you happen to know how long does it take for an agent or manager to read your script, and contact you later if he requested yours??? Thanks, Michael, always great articles.

  5. Dale Brisebois

    Nick’s life could have gone down a completely different road had he only given a different response at that pivotal moment…what happened and where could it have led him?
    What do you think of this as a logline? Is this enticing enough to want to know more of the story?

  6. iggy

    Thank you for your kind help. I understand, and trust me, I’ve been applying the advice in your article *religiously* for my movie scripts.

    But I was conflicted because this one’s a pilot for a TV series, rather than a movie, and given the potential to be read by producers, I can’t help but feel an obligation to also describe, not details but the overall tone and feel of the series, in the pitch.

    Without any disrespect, I think the solution in this case, given the short word count available, is to write a ~2 line initial sentence, along the lines you advocate, that describes the pilot and the show’s main conflict/arch, followed by a *short* second 6->10 word sentence in “X meets Y via Z” form to flesh out the show’s vibe.

  7. Michael FerrisMichael Ferris Post author

    @Iggy

    I think I should make clear that none of these are hard rules – you can play them fast and loose when you need to. My advice is always predicated on what will give you the highest percentage of chance to succeed, and the lowest percentage of chance to fail.

    Many times when I work with writers using my logline service, they want to put all these different aspects of the script, or all these different aspects of the story into one little logline and end up falling short. What they end up seeing is that the summary doesn’t matter, and all these cool details they thought needed to be in it to explain what the show is are unnecessary as well. I’ll give you an example using Jurassic Park:

    This is the type of logline I usually get from the writers:

    A mad scientist finds a way to clone dinosaurs and invites a group of scientists to see his new theme park. When a big storm shuts down the island and the power, it’s every man for themselves in a race to survive and get off the island safely.

    This is what the type of logline it ends up being:

    A family struggles to survive the night when a hurricane traps them on an island filled with genetically engineered dinosaurs.

    Notice I didn’t get into any of the complexities of the plot, and I even left out some very important details (like a power failure set the dinosaurs lose). Why did I leave important stuff out? Because we dont need it to understand what’s at stake. We can pretty easily assume the dangers this family is in, and can pretty much guess that they will have to evade these dinosaurs – we dont need to get into the complexities of HOW that happens – just that it happens.

    So while you may have some really great plot twists or other cool and complicated aspects to your story, throw it all out the window and just write a sentence that tells us ONLY what we need to be intrigued. Not what we need to know WHY we should be intrigued.

    Make sense?

    During a preview tour,

  8. iggy

    Michael, thanks for your swift reply.

    I have a TV drama pilot where I think the X meets Y kind of description really crystallizes the high concept and strongly answers commercial potential questions.

    I’m planning to submit this script to competition, and only have 50 words for the pitch. So while I think I can get something good in that short space, because of the script’s complexity (imho and that of another competition judge, it’s the good kind of complexity) I’m uncertain I can capture it’s full flavor without resorting to the movie logline.

    Would that be a situation where it’s ok to break the rules?

  9. Michael FerrisMichael Ferris

    @iggy

    Great question. That kind of stuff *might* be good to include in a pitch (though I don’t recommend it), but is definitely not good for loglines. It’s looked at as lazy, and overdone. People will think “well, if this guy can’t even write a high impact sentence or two about his script, what’s his script going to be like?”. It will raise a red flag with some people, or turn others off, so all the way around it’s just not worth it.

  10. iggy

    Michael,

    what do you think about movie loglines, such as “It’s a Wonderful Life meets Alien, by way of Jack Kerouac”

    Are these kinds of logline useful in terms of setting the tone and mood of a screenplay, without giving the story away? Or are they just counterproductive?

  11. Cheryl Colwell

    Thank you for the examples. I’m closer to a great logline than I’ve been in two months. I kept thinking it needed to be more specific.

  12. Donna Doty

    As a beginner I thought I would just take a trip down to LA and knock on a front door some Saturday afternoon. I have two books being published this summer (easy) but selling a script (what a rude awakening) Love your article.

  13. Michael FerrisMichael Ferris

    Thank you for all the comments everybody!

    @Warren

    You should definitely focus on the overall concept, as that’s the only thing people care about. Getting them to like the concept is the biggest hurdle, frankly.

    @Dennis
    You’re absolutely right – without the “titanic” reference the logline doesn’t pop as much. On the same token, if the movie itself had been about any other ship sinking, I doubt it would have made a fourth of the money it did either. The whole power of the logline and the whole reason behind making the movie are one and the same – the titanic was such a famous, big, historical disaster that just hearing the word conjures up images, thoughts, emotions, or all 3. Everyone has heard of it, and it’s an easy movie to imagine would be epic without knowing much more than the subject matter.

  14. Dennis

    How effective would the one-sentence logline be if it didn’t drop the name “RMS Titanic”? “A journey of forbidden love between a poor boy and a rich girl on the final voyage of an ill-fated ship.” Probably Pass.

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