TITLES & LOGLINES
By Elizabeth English
Have a fabulous, unique idea for a movie? That’s wonderful, but you need to know how to turn your great story into a great logline. There is and always has been only one real secret to success in the entertainment industry. Tell a great story. Period. And you need to figure out how to tell that fabulous story in only 25 words or less! You need to learn how to get your script idea enthusiastically read by an agent and then a producer, director and actors. Learn what they look for in a title and logline. Your first impression to these movers and shakers is all about the fine art of pitching your film or screenplay, your TV series concept or story idea, via your eye-catching title and logline.
“SELL THE SIZZLE; NOT JUST THE STEAK!”
A great title for your film or screenplay is the first (and maybe only) introduction to an agent, a producer, director or studio. “You’ve got 3 minutes; pitch me what you’ve got,” is what you’ll hear from the entertainment industry movers & shakers who might buy your project. But you probably wouldn’t even get that meeting or a reply to your query letter, if you didn’t have an interesting title and logline that caught their eye.
You can find that great, eye-catching title within your screenplay text, and then write a sizzling logline to go with it. Know how to “dress” your script for success, make it stand out from all the others, and get it noticed in the first round.
Whether you’re a newbie, a struggling writer, or an old pro; a screenwriter, television writer, or story-teller, you need to know the latest & greatest on how to break in to today’s film & television industry, how to further your success, and how to get your spec screenplay put into the “weekend read” pile, and seriously considered within the Hollywood shark-pit. And how to adapt your logline for whomever will be reading it. Yes, I hate to say it, but you’ll need different loglines for the same script, for sending it out to a director, a producer, an actor or an agent. That very first impression may be the only chance you’ve got. And remember, it’s worth a whole LOT of money, if it sells the screenplay.
As screenwriters, we use dynamic titles and loglines to sell our scripts. We use them in query letters to impress agents and to get their attention and to encourage them to ask to see the script. We need a title and logline that really rocks! Great loglines can often work better as a sales tool than whole screenplays can do. Agents and producers are looking for easy, quick reads. Loglines provide less for them to say no to than a synopsis or a complete script does. The logline introduces the story to them, without forcing them to read the whole script to know what your story is and if it might be a concept they can sell to a producer.
HOW NOT TO WRITE A LOGLINE
Don’t simply summarize your movie with set-up, conflict, and resolution. Don’t just write a one-sentence TV Guide-style logline emphasizing the main storyline. Don’t limit yourself to the set-up or the plot. Don’t write that the story is “exciting”, “amazing”, a “blockbuster”. Never describe the details of your script in the logline or leave out important information. Try not to use your characters’ names in a logline.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO
Do emphasize the unique elements of your script that enable audiences and readers to connect with the situation and to identify with the protagonist. Do use “buzz-words”, like “love”, “death”, “sex”, “adventure”, “mystery”, “romance” that help the reader identify with the story. Consider writing a high-concept line at the end, to make your story instantly recognizable to anyone. A high-concept logline might be something like “When Harry Met Sally” aboard the “Titanic”. Or “Braveheart” meets “City Slickers”, or even “Shakespeare In Love” with “The Witches of Eastwick”.
You’ve got to cram a lot into a short, three-sentence logline: genre, conflict, character, action, location, time, any crisis to be resolved, hint at the potential transformation of the main character, marketability, and do it all in 25 words or less, all in present tense. And it needs to sizzle! The synopsis and logline are the keys that open the door to getting your script read. The same amount of thought that a writer takes in writing a script should also be taken in writing the logline. A logline is not a mini version of your script! It’s much, much harder to write the three-sentence logline than it is to write the 100 to 120 page screenplay.
A reader should be able get the full story concept of the script from these one to three sentences. He or she should know immediately what the whole movie is about and get excited about the story-line and idea, and can visualize the finished film. Always consider who your target audience is. Who’s going to be reading your title and logline first? Unfortunately, your first reader may be a young college intern working for free in the producer’s or agent’s basement mailroom. Your first reader could well be the producer’s temporary secretary, or a jaded and bored assistant. He might be a guy who only likes “Scream” or “Matrix” and you’ve asked him to read your romantic comedy, “Sleepless in Seattle” script. Or your first reader could be a young woman who loves “The Ya-Ya Sisterhood” and you’ve mailed out “The Rock”.
Use that title and logline to make them sit up and take notice, and then to send the script up to the next level.
I received a script submission, entitled “JENNY, THE RED-HEADED WHORE”. I didn’t want to read it. It went to the bottom of the pile to be read when I absolutely had to. Well, guess what? When I finally read the script, with much trepidation, it was one of the best scripts I’d ever read! This script was one of the five finalists for Moondance. I convinced the author to change the title to “The Virgins”.
Another writer sent me a script called “THE TENT”. Who wants to read about a tent? In her script, however, I learned that the protagonist was a big, strong and independent woman who braved a winter in Alaska in a tent. Her family even called her “Alaska”. So when she and her husband had finally completed the log cabin, they climbed up on the roof to enjoy the Northern Lights in the night sky. He reached his hand down to her and said, “dance with me, Alaska.” That great line of dialog became her new script title! It was there all along and just needed to be found.
The title of your screenplay needs to fit perfectly with your logline and be attention-getting. Titles are like mini-loglines in that they must be unique and they need to attract interest and make the reader want to go ahead and read the logline. But be sure to go to IMDb.com to see if your title has been used before. IMDb.com has a listing of every film produced from the 1800s to today’s films and those that are in pre-production and production.
But then again, what was “Claire’s Knee” all about? It was a unique title and made them look! “Forrest Gump” took ten years of rejections from every studio and producer in Hollywood. What if the writer had changed the title and logline to help it be seen as the potential blockbuster film that it became?
ADAPTING YOUR LOGLINE TO YOUR READER’S INTEREST
Agents and producers want to read screenplays that he or she can instantly recognize as sellable to a wide audience. Producers think about production costs, the available budget and marketability. Directors, on the other hand, want to read screenplays that will show off their talents in the best light and offer them artistic challenges, and maybe even win them an Oscar. Actors want to read screenplays that showcase their acting ability and which give them the best role in the film. Story editors need to see a unique, sellable idea they can take upstairs. Readers want that one fabulous concept they can bring to the attention of a producer, story editor or creative executive. Interns are often told to recommend no more than ONE screenplay a year! You need to make sure that one is yours, by altering the wording & focus of your logline to appeal to each reader and potential buyer.
Remember, your all-important first impression gets you in the door to pitch your story, and may be worth millions of dollars and that success you’ve been working toward as a screenwriter.
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