We assembled a trio of top industry professionals to breakdown and evaluate reader submitted loglines and answer a few frequently asked questions.
Our panel includes:
Doug Griffin is the Director of Development at The Story Company, production shingle of writer/director Tim Story whose credits include Barbershop, Think Like A Man, Ride Along and The Fantastic Four. He is also a former writing and acting teacher.
Ava Jamshidi is a manager and producer at Industry Entertainment. She began her career in representation in the mailroom at APA and spent nine years as a lit agent at both APA and ICM prior to her current post at Industry.
Rob Ripley has written over 2,000 coverage reports working for Disney, Paramount, Warner Bros and Cruise/Wagner. He has also been a paid screenwriter and taught screenwriting and story analysis at numerous educational institutions, including Carnegie Mellon University.
Kevin Fukunaga (Scripts & Scribes): Why is an exceptionally strong logline so important in getting read?
Doug Griffin: Just like a great trailer for a movie, the logline sets up the reader’s expectations and excitement. A poorly written logline implies that the script won’t be very good. The writer already starts behind. If a writer has trouble nailing down and communicating the plot of his script in a few lines – the reader can assume the same problem will be present when he/she reads the script.
Ava Jamshidi: A studio exec may only have a minute to pitch their boss on a project. A good logline relayed in that minute could mean the difference between a sale or read or a pass.
Rob Ripley: For me, they almost always equate to a clearly focused protagonist and story. I may not respond to the material, but more often than not, an exceptional logline translates into a story that fundamentally works.
Kevin: Are two sentence loglines acceptable? If so, when?
Doug: Yes. Rarely acceptable. If the second line is very short and is there to add a layer of intrigue and mystery.
Ava: I think when the second sentence relays the tone a la “Think (this movie) meets (this movie)”… if the story itself can’t be told in one sentence then a buyer will think it might be too tough to market to an audience.
Rob: When they create a complete thought, it can work just fine. But all too often, writers create two really long sentences that don’t necessarily add up to more than the sum of its parts.
Kevin: What are some common mistakes you see with the not-so-good loglines you read?
Doug: 1) Too much information crammed into one sentence. (Too many details)
2) Conflicting ideas put in one sentence.
3) The logline does not represent what the movie is going to be about.
Ava: Most are far too long. You want to hook the reader, not give all of it away. I also think it’s a mistake to use character names. I think that gives information that is unnecessary to what the logline is trying to relay. Ultimately the logline is the trailer for your script. A good trailer gets you to the theater… a good logline gets you to read.
Rob: Lack of specificity and/or focus. Keeping the important stuff “secret”. Trying to tell too much. Forgetting the protagonist’s arc.
Logline Breakdown & Analysis:
We asked our trio of industry professionals to read each logline and give their first impressions based solely on their initial reading. Then, after reading a synopsis of the script and brief statement of intent provided by the writers, our experts offered additional thoughts and suggestions on how to improve the loglines.
WRITER: Romona Robinson
LOGLINE: A young investment banker is forced to use the supernatural abilities he’s always kept secret to expose the truth behind the mysterious death of his CEO uncle and to prevent becoming the next victim.
Doug: Honest first impression. 1) I found the sentence a tiny bit “clunky”. As though too many concepts, and adjectives were being crowded into one line. 2) I found the subject to be confusing. It could be a wonderful thriller. But mixing banking and the supernatural did not intrigue me. Those areas are so different. It might have been more effective to focus the sentence on the super natural thriller aspect.
Ava: My first impression is that I’m intrigued. I’m curious though about the tone still and that would make me hesitate a little.
Rob: The supernatural aspect juxtaposed against the possible implications of the business world is interesting and makes me lean in. However, the actual threat reads as too enigmatic and left me wondering a bit how/why Matt’s in potential trouble, too.
SYNOPSIS: GRAVE is a thriller with nods to The Sixth Sense and Ghost set against the backdrop of New York City high finance.
After a year-long self-imposed stint in a mental facility, Matt Virtue arrives in New York City to work at his uncle’s investment firm, Grave Investments. Matt has supernatural abilities and is able to “soul link”, a state where a spirit can inhabit Matt’s body for a brief period of time. Matt’s uncle tragically falls to his death and he reaches out to Queen, a Haitian voodoo priestess who is aware of his “gifts” and has been like a surrogate mother to him. While Matt is soul-linked to his uncle John, it gives John the opportunity to come back from the dead and chase down the clues surrounding his death. If the truth isn’t exposed in time, Matt may be next in line to join his uncle…in a grave.
INTENT: My goal is just to keep it really clean but still getting the idea across.
Doug: After reading the synopsis and breakdown – I might have focused the logline in this way…
After the suspicious death of his Uncle, Matt reaches out to a Haitian voodoo priestess to connect with his Uncle, beyond the grave, and uncover the identity of the killer before Matt becomes the next victim.
Ava: In order to help with tone and give the prospective reader the “type” of movie the script is going for (which can be helpful off the cuff on how the movie would be marketed, etc) I do find it helpful to have the logline and then an additional sentence saying something like “GHOST meets WALL STREET”… or whatever would be appropriate. Or, starting the logline with “In the vein of GHOST, a young investment….”
Ultimately for me, after reading the synopsis, the story was less intriguing than the logline.
Rob: Naming villain / threat will help give us a sense of the overarching conflict. Also, I found myself wondering if this is actually Matt or John’s story. From the synopsis, Matt just seems to be the vessel for John to come back and hunt down his killer. That dilutes the clarity a fair amount, so I’d look for a way to tackle that, too.
TITLE: PERSONAL TRAINING
WRITERS: Kristopher & Kyle Piereth
LOGLINE: When a tough personal trainer is fired from her own reality show, she launches a viral campaign to win back her job by training her pathetic high school brother.
Doug: This logline is very clear. Everything in the sentence tells one story. Personal trainer. Fired. Reality show. Win back her job. Train pathetic brother.
I don’t think I needed to know it was a high school brother. That is an awkward description. High school brother. Pathetic is enough.
Ava: Feels like a strong logline. The journey and concept come across well. Again, only question I have is: what’s the tone? What I don’t get is if it’s an R-rated comedy, is it more John Hughes in style, could it be more of a rom-com?… that’s the only thing missing.
Rob: This could be all kinds of funny, but it feels a little too generic to really leap off the page and distinguish itself the way it deserves.
SYNOPSIS: A tough celebrity trainer is fired from her own reality show and launches a viral campaign to win back her job by training her pathetic, high school brother. Problems occur when a former high school crush offers a reminder of her pudgy past, and her replacement, a former porn star turned fitness bombshell, enjoys a meteoric rise taking over her show. Fortunately, her brother’s friendship teaches her she must lose her tough-girl exterior and open herself up for love, softening her image for an even better show opportunity.
INTENT: I developed this logline because of the intensely awkward, embarrassing and inadvertently homoerotic moments I’ve had in public gyms over the years. How I remembered those things at different points in my life and the personal journey it took before I could laugh at them, I think, says a lot about self-image and insecurity. I had issues with the logline concisely explaining how ‘training pathetic brother’ = ‘winning her job back’. Several people didn’t get how the two jived even though it came across clearly in the script. It was challenging to communicate the nature of the trainer’s scheme. The trainer loses her job for being too tough, almost militant and uncaring. So to win back her job she must change her image. To change her image she must show peoples she cares, in this case, about family. So she schemes to publicize her efforts to whip her brother into shape — to change her image — to win back her job.
Doug: After reading her paragraph. I see the brother is not really the catalyst to winning her job back. It would be clearer and more representative of the story if the writer wrote something like this….
When a tough personal trainer is fired from her own reality show, she realizes she must transform her “hard as nails” image, and launches a viral campaign to win back her job.
Ava: The reason this logline was successful is because it successfully linked the “training pathetic brother = winning her job back” by making sure it’s clear that “she launches a viral campaign”… we don’t need the details, in fact, that should be why we want to read the script… for those details. That said, off of the synopsis, I’m still not sure what the tone of this movie is or what type of movie it is and therefore don’t have a great idea of who the audience exactly is. Without a better sense of that, a buyer may pass over something that could be right because they don’t know if the movie fits their needs.
Rob: So really this is the story about a woman learning how to relate to other people on their terms instead of just on her own. Be more specific with the brother – pathetic is a little too generic and be more specific about her being fired from her own show. This will allow you to connect them together and create the character/plot congruency needed to sketch out the overall protagonist and story arcs. Something akin to… When a tough personal trainer is fired from her own reality show after publicly humiliating a client, she launches a viral campaign to change her bullying image by training her out-of-shape and overly sensitive younger brother.
TITLE: ROUGH WATER
WRITER: Clint Williams
GENRE: Action Thriller
LOGLINE: A weekend canoe trip becomes a perilous game of hide-and-seek when a suburban dad and his young son stumble across a cartel-operated marijuana farm hidden in the wilderness of northern California.
Doug: This logline is very well written. I really want to read this script. “Perilous game of hide-and-seek” gives me the tone, the genre and the action. “Suburban Dad vs. Cartel” gives me the stakes and I immediately want to see how it’s going to turn out.
Ava: Solid logline. Because thrillers tends to be a genre of film that doesn’t really change in tone but rather in size, having a “this meets this” doesn’t feel as necessary.
Rob: Where do I buy my ticket to see this?
SYNOPSIS: The plot centers on attorney and family man Jason Harris. He’s married to Amanda and they have two children, 6 year-old Caleb and deaf 12 year-old Kayla. Jason loves the outdoors so he’s decided to take Caleb on his first overnight canoe trip. Halfway down the river, however, they stumble onto an illegal crop of marijuana. Worse, they trigger a booby-trap which alerts Arturo and Miguel, the two cartel thugs who are protecting the crop. Jason tries to diffuse the situation and convince Arturo to let them go on their way. But things escalate when Arturo hurts Caleb, prompting Jason to bludgeon him with an oar. Wounded, Jason limps with his son back to their canoe and they flee downriver. Unfortunately though, Miguel discovers Arturo is dead and pursues the terrified father-and-son with an AK-47. Later, Jason is relieved when he and Caleb approach a spot on the river where Amanda and Kayla await. But his relief turns to horror when he realizes that Miguel has beaten them there and he has his family captive at gunpoint.
INTENT: Bad stuff happens to ordinary people. That is what I try to capture in the current logline. The main character, Jason Harris, is a cool-headed, outdoorsy guy but one who avoids confrontation, even at steep personal cost. That’s why the original logline posted on Done Deal Pro read: A middle-age suburban dad must find his inner Chuck Norris when he and his five-year-old son stumble upon a cartel pot farm while canoeing a remote wilderness river. Forum members rightly pointed out that the Chuck Norris reference made it sound like a comedy. It’s not. ScriptGal offered: A family canoe trip becomes a life-or-death chase/battle/struggle when a suburban dad and his 5-year-old son stumble across a cartel-owned marijuana farm. That, as you can see, is close to the final logline. If I were to add a second line, it would be something along the line of: As the father struggles to protect his son, his estranged wife and deaf teen daughter navigate rough waters of another sort at home.
Doug: I don’t think the extra line is necessary. (“estranged wife and deaf teen daughter navigate rough waters of another sort at home.”) That is a subplot that intrudes on the great premise that’s already there. “Suburban Dad” paints a great picture. “Cartel” paints a great picture. You’ve done your job.
Ava: I think what was learned from the original logline (and yes, it does sound like a comedy) and what ScriptGal suggested are right. I would say that I think “life or death battle” sounds like it has higher stakes than “perilous game of hide-and-seek” and would be better at reflecting that the stakes are indeed life or death.
Rob: I think there’s a bit of opportunity to clarify why the situation becomes “a perilous game of hide and seek” (i.e., after they accidentally ruin some pot plants, etc.). There’s a version of this story where the father and son wander into the territory, meet the cartel lookout and beat a hasty retreat. What happens here that causes the escalation? This will boost the immediacy but also give us a bit more complete sense of the overall story.
TITLE: UNFORTUNATE ONES
WRITER: April Austin
GENRE: Drama (TV)
LOGLINE: After winning the lottery, a working class matriarch struggles to keep her dysfunctional family from completely falling apart.
Doug: This is an intriguing premise. But I think I need more information to know why her family is falling apart. I don’t know what the problem is. So I can’t envision what the second Act is going to be.
Ava: The logline clearly describes what the plot is, but this one for me in particular is really in need of a tonal reference. Only when knowing the tone, would I know who I could sell this to. Is this show BROTHERS & SISTERS? DIRTY SEXY MONEY? FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS? DALLAS? PARENTHOOD? THE OC? There are a lot of ways a show like this could go…
Rob: I don’t get a real sense of what the series will be about. The pilot plot is here, but not the real conflict that’s going to be the series’ engine.
SYNOPSIS: Myla has to plan her estranged biological mother’s memorial, while being pulled in multiple directions by her family. Myla’s youngest sister, Nia, kicks her son, Floyd out, but her guilt leads her down a drunken path. Myla’s other sister, Janis, marriage comes into question when she discovers some steamy emails between her husband, Taylor and a mysterious woman. Floyd finds it hard to deal with being homeless and resorts to stealing several items from his Aunt Myla, including her 25 million dollar winning lottery ticket.
INTENT: When coming up with this logline, I wanted to focus on who the story was about. It’s an ensemble show, but all of these characters are connected by their relationship with the matriarch of the family. My main issue with this logline is wondering whether I should leave the word lottery out of it. I know that many people will read that word and see it as a red flag. There haven’t been that many successful lottery stories. My goal is to have a logline that tells the reader this is not just a story based on the generic lottery story. Unfortunate Ones isn’t a show about the lottery, but a show that focuses on a working class, dysfunctional family and how having a large amount of money will affect their relationships with each other. The entire show is based around the question of “What price is worth paying for the “happiness” of your family?” I need my logline to convey that message.
Doug: After reading the Breakdown, I am unclear over whether the Matriarch is going to try to use her winnings to solve her family’s problems? Or, if the winnings are creating the problem? I think it needs to be one or the other. For example….
1) After winning the lottery, a working class matriarch discovers that her winnings are pulling her already dysfunctional family father apart.
2) After winning the lottery, a working class matriarch tries to use the winnings to keep her dysfunctional family from completely falling apart, and discovers what price she’ll pay to secure the happiness of her family.
Ava: I do think the word “lottery” may polarize the reader. I italicized the line above (in the “intent” section) that I would encourage the writer to include whenever making a submission. That line is what gives me the vision of the writer moving forward for the show. Still have some tone questions but that helps.
Rob: Definitely exchange “lottery” for something more like, “an unexpected windfall of money” so that we’re more focused on the family drama. And in terms of the family drama, what is the main engine that’s going to keep the family on the brink of falling apart for the run of the series? That conflict should be crystal clear in the logline.
*NOTE: Please do not submit loglines to Scripts & Scribes for analysis. The writers and loglines were requested by S&S specifically for this article. Scripts & Scribes is not a screenplay consulting service, nor do we offer any evaluation services. Any loglines submitted will be deleted without being read. Thank you!
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