Your Screenplay Log Line!
A log line is a one or two sentence description of your screenplay or movie. Many writers have an aversion to summing up their films this way. But the bottom line is that show business is a BUSINESS. That means it involves “selling” to collaborators as well as the audience.
Most writers, including myself, have created log-lines only after completing their screenplays. Blake Snyder, in his book Save The Cat, advises coming up with a log line, BEFORE, you even do a first draft.
A good log line is invaluable to have as early as possible. It helps pitch the movie to every possible type of collaborator, from cast and crew, to investors and donors. A good log line is like a cover of a book. A good one makes you want to open it, right now, to find out what’s inside. So what makes a good log line?
1) A picture of the whole story that implies budget, genre, audience, timing
Your description should be able to help the audience picture the whole movie in their minds in one fell swoop.
2) A clear protoganist and antagonist (if necessary) –adjectives!
Your log line should encourage us to visualize the hero of your film. If there is an antagonist he should be described as well. Think of key adjectives to describe them.
3) A high stakes or primal central conflict with the longest way to go
emotionally for the main character.
What is the central conflict of the film?
Let’s look at some examples:
“An unorthodox NYC cop comes to LA to visit his estranged wife and her
office building is taken over by terrorists.”- Die Hard
We see the whole story here. Its a big budget action movie (terrorists take over building) that probably takes place over course of one night. A resourceful, unconventional main character. A high stakes conflict—saving his wife! Look at all we can tell from this simple log line.
“A risk- averse teacher plans to marry his dream girl but must first accompany his over-protective future brother in law– a cop, on a ride
along from hell!”- Ride Along
We can tell its a comedy, from the ironic set-up. It is probably medium budget because of the actual ride along. It probably takes place over one night or a weekend. And again we have a high stakes conflict– to win his dream girl. We also have a Clear protagonist and antagonist that make the situation comedic: A “risk averse” teacher and an “Overprotective
cop” brother in law.
Now some rebel at the thought of giving their “art film” a log line. That’s fine as long as you recognize that it is going to make it that much harder to find collaborators, distributors, and an audience.
My commercial spec script “Space Slam” has the following log line.
“When an aging wrestler finds himself trapped, when pop-culture obsessed aliens take Madison Square Garden hostage, he and his team open up a can of NY whoopass!”
I’ll be test marketing this log line on the streets of NY soon. Video to follow!