How To Write A Killer LoglineTuesday, July 2, 2019
A wheelchair bound photographer spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder.
Logline for Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock
Learning how to write a killer logline for your film is one of the most important skills you can develop as a writer. The wrong logline can leave potential producers, distributors, or film festival programmers unclear, confused, or even completely uninterested in your film before they even see it. But the right logline can set up your story, sell your film, and make people decide that they just HAVE to see it.
What is a logline?
A logline is simply the main conflict of the film summed up in one or two sentences. It is a very succinct description of the struggle between the protagonist and antagonist of the film--it explains why someone should watch the movie.
Loglines are by and large almost always one sentence--some film festival submissions require them to be as little as 30 words. However in some instances two sentences are OK if the story is very complex. They should never be any longer than that--the goal isn't to explain the entire story, it's to give a taste of what the film is about and get people excited enough to want to watch it.
While there is some room for creativity and variation, most good loglines have the following elements:
- the protagonist - who the film is about
- their goal or main action- what are they seeking out or striving for, or what they are doing in the film
- the antagonist or antagonistic force - who or what is stopping them from reaching their goal or preventing them from whatever they are doing
To illustrate, let's break down the logline from the beginning of this article:
A wheelchair bound photographer [protagonist] spies on his neighbors from his apartment window [main action] and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder [antagonist].
Here's another example:
A young F.B.I. cadet [protagonist] must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer [antagonist] to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims [goal/main action].
This is of course the logline from Silence of the Lambs by Jonathon Demme.
Tips for writing a good logline
The first thing you should do before writing your logline is to identify the three elements above (the protagonist, their goal or main action, and the antagonist). Remember, while your film may have several main characters, the protagonist is almost always ONE person in the film. Who is this film really about? Whose story are you telling? These are the questions you should ask to determine your protagonist.
Your description of the protagonist's goal should be clear, quick, and to the point. Remember that you're not giving away every plot detail--you want to start with the main goal that they are trying to accomplish.
The antagonist is whomever or whatever is preventing the protagonist from reaching their goal. Sometimes the antagonist is a person, but it doesn't always have to be. Sometimes the antagonist can be an animal or creature (in the case of a monster movie, for example), it could be a specific setting or force of nature (if the protagonist is lost in the jungle, for example, or battling a hurricane), or even societal forces (like racism or a dystopian society).
Once you have identified your main elements, try to combine these into a sentence that makes sense to describe your film. For example, if your protagonist is a husband, your antagonist is the jungle that he is lost in, and the your protagonist's goal is to return home, your sentence could start like this: A husband tries to return home after getting lost in the jungle.
Now this is a good start, and tells the story, but it's not the most interesting logline yet. Let's give our character a little more depth by adding an adjective to describe him. In our example, the husband's wife has just died, so we can call him a 'grieving husband'. Now our protagonist is a little more interesting.
Next, let's add a little bit more of a setup. Again, we don't need to give away every plot point, but we want to give a little background to the world that the protagonist lives in. One trick: think about what came immediately before your story starts; what put the protagonist in this situation. For our film: On his way to his wife's funeral, a grieving husband tries to return home after his plane crashes in the jungle.
Finally, try to include high stakes or a sense or urgency whenever it works for your film. Let's add this plot element for the final version of our film's logline: On his way to his wife's funeral, a grieving husband evades an indigenous tribe of cannibals as he tries to return home after his plane crashes in a remote jungle.
You can see that the final version of our logline sets up the story without giving away any important plot details, tells us who the protagonist is, what his goal is, and what is stopping him. This is way more interesting and exciting than our original version.
We hope you can use these tips to create a killer logline for your next 48HFP or other film project!
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