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This is the latest entry in my blog essays on various screenwriting topics. These are mainly inspired by postings on various facebook sites. This one is inspired by numerous postings that I personally believe give the wrong idea when it comes to the above-referenced issues.
However, before I begin I should mention and it should be noted that based on the postings I continuously run across, I am very much an outlier in my opinions. So take this into consideration as you read.
When it comes to loglines, the main issue I disagree with is when someone says that you have to have a logline that will make whoever (agent, manager, producer, director) want to read your script. That they are compelled to read it, that the fate of the world, the very life of their first born, will depend upon it.
Yes, all right, you caught me. I do exaggerate. Still, the impression one gets is that without such a logline, you will never, ever, ever, ever, ever get anyone to request your script.
My response: Good luck with that.
I have been a reader for going on nigh twenty years. I have read for contests and a production company. I have read a sh… ton load of loglines and a ton load of screenplays. In all that time, I perhaps have read a handful of loglines that made me say to myself, “You know, I’d like to read that script”.
It just doesn’t happen.
A real eye opener for me, and others should do this as well, is when I read the loglines one year for the screenplays that are on the annual Black List. And it wasn’t just me. Others I talked to were amazed at how boring and uninteresting the loglines are. Yet these scripts, with their boring, bland loglines, managed somehow to get on that celebrated list.
This is not to say I think the content of a logline is unimportant. It’s very, very important. I just don’t think writers should focus that much, or at all, on the compellingness of their logline because no matter how hard the writers try, it probably won’t be.
One way to discover just how difficult it is to create the Holy Grails of loglines, check out the posts where someone lists their logline and ask for feedback. Actually, half the time I find the loglines to be perfectly fine. But no matter how well written it is, almost 100% of responders say it’s not strong enough and then proceed to write their version. And in 99% of the time, not only is the logline only as good as the original, a high number are far worse.
Everyone thinks they can rewrite a logline, but very few actually can.
I suggest that the goal of a logline should not to be so compelling the agent, manager, filmmaker will kill themselves if they are not allowed to read the script. From what I can tell, the best loglines are the ones that most clearly tell the receiver the information they need to know when it comes to whether they want to read the screenplay or not.
Of course, the main ingredient is to give a couple of sentences that clearly set up the plot or central conflict. Basically, such and such is about a man or woman or group of people who…, and then complete that sentence.
In addition, the author could hint at, or include, other pertinent information, such as genre (the usual suspects like comedy, drama, dramedy, western), niche audience (gay, Hispanic, black, older-remember genre is kind of film, niche is audience), cost (microbudget, epic), etc. Some people even include an elevator pitch at the ending.
The information listed in the last paragraph is not a necessity, of course. But it could be useful. A producer or agent looking for an action script with a female lead will be more likely, I would think, of requesting your screenplay if they know it fits that description.
I will finish with a few more aspects when it comes to loglines. The first is based on a posting on a facebook page. The author was concerned about writing a logline that was required by a contest. I told her that the readers will never see the logline, or if they do, will pay no attention to it, and that it is usually there to be included with the screenplay if the author makes semi-finals or finals. So don’t sweat it too much.
As someone who does coverage and script consultation, loglines can play an important part. I never read the logline before reading the script. I want to see if the screenplay works on its own terms. But if I’m having difficulty understanding what the author is trying to do, what the focus of the plot is, what is driving the story, I can turn to the logline and hopefully find out. This makes it much easier to provide feedback and suggestions. But there have been times when I’ve read a script and turned to the logline and the logline doesn’t remotely match up to the plot of the screenplay or I never would have thought that that was what the screenplay was about.
In the end, the very best loglines you will ever read are those created after the film is made and not by the authors, but by marketing.
And finally, and all together now (follow the bouncing ball), loglines and taglines are not the same thing. Loglines tell us what the story is about. Taglines are marketing gimmicks that go on the poster and in the press release.
In many ways, the same issues apply to titles. I keep seeing people claim that a title has to be so compelling it will make someone have to read the screenplay. And that’s an even more ridiculous statement to make about titles because it’s even less possible, if it is even possible, that a writer will succeed.
Again, in all my years of reading screenplays and going to movies, I have probably read fewer titles than I have loglines that are that compelling.
In fact, when it comes to movies released, only two off the top of my head were really that compelling. One was Cowboys v. Aliens and the other was Snakes on a Plane. On the other hand, as compelling as the title is for Snakes on a Plane, as a producer I probably wouldn’t have asked to read it. It just smacks of formula.
And think of all the great movies out there. 2001: A Space Odyssey may have made me sit up and take notice, but All About Eve? Citizen Kane? Vertigo? If I read the title Chinatown and requested the script, I might have even been a bit upset since it wasn’t about what the title suggested.
But what do these titles have in common? When you hear their name, you immediately think of movie. Titles are rarely compelling before reading a screenplay or seeing a movie. Only afterward do we understand their effectiveness.
One anecdote that will help demonstrate what I’m trying to say. I was in a deliberations meeting for the winners of a contest. One person asked about a specific screenplay by title. No one could remember what it was about. When we were reminded, we all said we did like the script very much (just not enough to make the top 10). Later on in the deliberations, someone mentioned the title again. And again we couldn’t recall it and had to be reminded. We all concluded that the screenplay definitely needed a new title.
And I suggest that is the best title, the one where when someone mentions it, you know which screenplay it is.
Finally, as for bears, I really have no firm opinion. Use them, don’t use them. Makes no difference to me.