Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How to Make a Movie: Loglines

This handout deals with loglines.

Here's what a logline is for: At some point, you're going to have to describe the movie you're making (or want to make) to another person.

A logline is your story in one snappy sentence.

The problem is, when most people try to describe a movie or book, they get lost.

Imagine trying to describe your favorite movie to another person. They want to know the premise, and you start off okay (a character, a situation) and then you start wandering around, describing everything that happens in the movie.

If you try to tell people what your movie is about, and you get wandery, it will stop making sense and the person you're talking to will glaze over.

A logline is also a good focus tool, which is why I teach it in my second class. Once you have a premise, if gives you a target to aim for. You can look at it, and say, "This is the story I'm telling."

If you change your mind, you can always change your logline. But if you started off writing a screenplay about how Bob has to save his wife from ninjas, and halfway through the script Bob has taken a job at a fish market, you've lost the thread a bit, and should look at the ninja thing again.

One other thing: A logline is not a poster line. You know what I'm saying? A poster line is one of those things like, "He came, he saw, he conquered." And then in the background there's your star, doing something star-like.

That's not a logline. A logline just lays out your story in one line.

You can do this pretty much any way you choose, but I like to put on training wheels and give my students an easy way to do it.

In this instance, I've taken the logline formats straight from Max Adams. Click her name to see the book that I took it from.

Apparently, the book is getting a new edition this year, which is great because it's ten years old. So watch for that. It's a great book and you should buy it.

And now, logline formats.

Format 1: (Title) is a (genre) about (protagonist) who must (objective) or else (dire thing that will happen if the protagonist fails).

I always do the Harry Potter series with this one:

The Harry Potter series is a fantasy about Harry Potter, who must stop the evil wizard Voldemort or else Voldemort will take over the world and enslave everyone.

That's really rough, but it works.

If your movie is less plot-driven, try number two:

Format 2: (Title) is a (genre) about (protagonist) who (inciting incident that creates the situation the story revolves around).

One of my kids used The Hangover, so let's try that:

The Hangover is a comedy about a group of guys who go on a bender and lose their friend, who they must find before tomorrow, when his wedding commences.

Again, that's very rough, and you'll want to play with getting your wording just right. But once you've got it set, you can memorize it, and much more easily answer the question: So, what's your movie ABOUT?


  1. Great information! I'm going to pass the link on to my screenwriting friends.

    Slightly off topic--is "wandery" a word? If it's not, it should be.

  2. Thanks for passing the link along! I'm thinking this little series will probably go two or three weeks.