Sunday, May 13, 2007

Writing the logline - Part one

A logline for a film is an extremely brief description of what the film is about. Loglines are mostly written by professionals for professionals in the film industry, but they also appear in your TV or film guide. Writing a logline is an excellent way for screenwriters to test whether their story is easy to describe or not. And a basic rule about writing and selling screenplays is that the basic story concept has to be easy to describe.

The tiny logline is one of the most difficult things for screenwriters to write. That’s because, apart from the title, it’s the most compact summary of the film there is. Like the film poster, it must accurately and intriguingly convey who the story is about, what genre the film is, and what sort of conflict it portrays. If the concept hasn’t been thought through properly, it just won’t squeeze into a logline.

There are various formulae for writing loglines, but all boil down to the same thing: In one sentence, preferably under 25 words, describe the main character, what they desperately want and the huge obstacle or dilemma standing in their way.

Here’s something about the first element: The Main Character.

The most common way to describe the main character* is a noun (often a profession or a station in life) embellished with an adjective or a very concise descriptive phrase. This combination serves to communicate a huge amount of information in just a few words. The reader can already picture what kind of world the main character inhabits because of their job or position in life. The adjective or descriptive phrase indicates why they’re in such a predicament. It hints at the main character’s conflict.

Some examples, just for fun:

An horrendously deformed down-and-outer. (The Elephant Man). Obviously someone who is limited socially and economically, and quite likely extremely unhappy and without many prospects in life. Someone who has hit rock bottom.

A vengeful but aging master swordsman (The Mask of Zorro). Someone who has revenge on his mind, which suggests an injustice committed against him (perhaps long ago), which he still hasn’t forgiven or forgotten. But also someone with formidable knowledge of fighting techniques, a force to be reckoned with.

A newly-wed architect with an incorrigible bachelor buddy (You, Me, and Dupree). A bit lengthy that, I admit, but it’s a tough one. Here’s a serious professional who has settled down, but whose main problem is, apparently, his best friend. This immediately suggests a conflict in the new marriage, someone who perhaps hasn’t quite made the transition to being part of a couple and whose friend is going to be the source of his problems.

Next time, something about the second element: What the main character desperately wants.

*The main character can also be a group of people, Like a group of army surgeons (MASH).

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