Why You Should Learn
to Love the Logline
by Jeff Bollow
When I was a frustrated, struggling writer, I used to believe there was something wrong with the system. How was anyone with talent supposed to break in, if the people within the system made it virtually impossible to get noticed?
Take this ridiculous idea of LOGLINES.
Am I really supposed to be able to encapsulate my entire kick-ass, finely-detailed, one-hundred-page screenplay in TWO SENTENCES?! That's got to be the most ridiculous thing I'd ever heard. Impossible. Stupid. Narrow-minded. No matter WHAT I came up with, it could never truly reflect the richness of my words. Those producers are closing their minds to the more complex and valuable material, I assumed.
And then I started looking for screenplays to produce.
Being the enlightened one, I accepted any and all unsolicited screenplays through the Embryo films website. But a funny thing happened.
We got inundated.
And when I say inundated, I don't mean we were swamped with hundreds of thousands of screenplays. No. There just aren't that many people in Australia writing screenplays. We were inundated with about a hundred and fifty.
But, being a writer myself (and knowing how much effort you put into it), I didn't want to just reject screenplays out of hand. So I made a policy of reading everything that came in -- or at least of giving it a genuinely "fair go".
After about a month, I was so hopelessly behind, that I would never catch up. They were coming in faster than I could keep up. Within six months, I was sure I was being voodoo cursed by a couple hundred writers out there.
See, it takes about an hour and a half to properly read a correctly-formatted screenplay. And even if you've got a lot of time on your hands (which I didn't), you still can't read more than, say, 10 or 20 scripts in a week. Not if you're trying to seriously consider them for production. And as soon as you have ANYTHING going on in your life, you're lucky to get through 5 or 6 of them.
Eventually, I was consumed with guilt. Not getting back to writers who had submitted their screenplays made me just as wicked and evil as every other producer that had never gotten back to me. Skimming scripts to "get a feel for it" was going against what I claimed made me different. The mountain of scripts (okay, call it a "stack", but emotionally, it was a mountain) became overwhelming.
There had to be a better way.
Ironically, I found it. It's called a LOGLINE.
Turns out, there's a reason things are done the way they've been done for decades. (Funny that.)
A compelling logline does several things at the same time, and as a writer, you need to understand these points:
1) IT SAVES THE PRODUCER'S TIME.
And let's face it, if I spend all my time reading screenplays, I don't spend much time producing. If I make the decision about what to READ merely by looking at the logline, I can spend the time reading only those projects that fit the parameters of what I'm looking for. If you've written an amazing fantasy drama, and I'm really looking for a comedy, I helps us quickly determine we're not a match on this particular project. (It's a time-management thing, not a judgment on your writing.)
2) IT DEMONSTRATES THE MARKETING ANGLE.
A perpetual problem producers face is that they need to find money in order to make their films. If I can't imagine how I would sell the film, I'm not going to be very confident when approaching investors or distributors. By sending me a compelling logline, you're helping make my life easier, which in turns makes me want to work with you.
3) IT PULLS THEM IN.
Let's face it, which script would YOU rather read -- one whose concept is vague, generic, and run-of-the-mill (something you've seen a thousand times)? Or one that, upon reading it for the very first time, gets your mind racing, imagining possibilities, and excited about what that film could become? Well, I'm no different. I want life to be as exciting as possible, too.
4) IT LETS THEM KNOW YOU'RE A PROFESSIONAL.
Now this one I didn't realize until I'd seen enough proof of it. But I discovered something a few years ago -- that a professional screenwriter (or at least someone capable of writing professional caliber material) is GOOD WITH WORDS. Seems obvious, doesn't it? Well, it's not. As anyone who's read more than 30 or 40 unproduced screenplays can tell you, you pretty much know by the end of page 5 whether or not the writer knows what they're doing. What I've discovered is that you REALLY know after just the logline. If you can't grab me in two sentences, why should I believe you'll grab me in a few thousand?
So, in short, loglines are NOT the enemy.
In fact, crafting a powerful logline will help you exercise the very same skills that will help you craft a powerful screenplay.
And when you send off that logline, you should KNOW what reaction I'm going to have when I read it. When you can do that, you won't find every producer requesting your screenplay. But you WILL find the right ones.
Keep on writing!
Jeff Bollow, founder of Screenplay.com.au, is an award-winning filmmaker, acclaimed screenwriting teacher, creator of FAST Screenplay, co-founder of New Zealand's Big Mountain Short Film Festival, and author of two best-selling books.
This article is copyright © 2005 by Jeff Bollow, and may not be reprinted without permission. You are free to link to this page, provided it is not within a frame on an external site.