THE LOGLINE FROM HELL
I talk to lots of screenwriters, I’ve been pitched by experts and amateurs, and my question when they prematurely drift into the story of their movie is always the same: “What’s the one-line?” Oddly, this is often the last thing screenwriters think about when writing a script. Believe me, I’ve been there. You’re so involved in your scenes, you’re so jazzed about being able to tie in that symbolic motif from The Odyssey, you’ve got it all so mapped out, that you forget one simple thing: You can’t tell me what it’s about. You can’t get to the heart of the story in less than 10 minutes.
Boy, are you screwed!
And I personally refuse to listen.
It’s because I know the writer hasn’t thought it through. Not really. Because a good screenwriter, especially anyone writing on spec, has to think about everyone all down the line, from the agent to the producer to the studio head to the public. You won’t be there to “set the mood”, so how are you going to get strangers excited? And getting them excited is Job One. So I cut writers off at their FADE IN: because I know everyone else will too. If you can’t tell me about it in one quick line, well, buddy I’m on to something else. Until you have your pitch, and it grabs me, don’t bother with the story.
In Hollywood parlance it’s called a logline or a one-line. And the difference between a good one and a bad one is simple. When I pick up the trades and read the logline of a spec or a pitch that’s sold and my first reaction is “Why didn’t 7 think of that?!” Well… that’s a good one. At random I’m going to select a few recent sales (from my Web source: http://www.hollywoodlitsaIes.com) that made me jealous. They’re in my genre, family comedy, but what we can learn from them crosses comedy, drama, whatever. Each of these was a big, fat spec sale in the six-to-seven figure range:
A newly married couple must spend Christmas Day at each of their four divorced parent’s homes — 4 Christmases
A just-hired employee goes on a company weekend and soon discovers someone’s trying to kill him — The Retreat
A risk-averse teacher plans on marrying his dream girl but must first accompany his overprotective future brother-in-law — a cop — on a ride along from hell! — Ride Along (Please note: Anything “from hell” is always a comedy plus).
Believe it or not, each of these loglines has the same things in common. Along with answering “What is it?” each contains four components that make it a sale.
What are those four components?
Well, let’s investigate… the logline from hell!