What is a logline, you say? A logline is a 20-30 word, 1-2 sentence summary of your film. A logline should summarize your film at its bare minimum.
A logline should include these factors:
- It should be concise and short
- The Protagonist
- Their goal and their problem
- What is holding them back- the antagonist, the risk, what will happen if they won’t achieve their goal?
Here is the perfect template for a logline:
When [INCITING INCIDENT OCCURS], a [SPECIFIC PROTAGONIST] must [OBJECTIVE], or else [STAKES].
Here is a perfect example of a logline: “The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.” –The Godfather
CHARACTER: Notice how the logline above does not use character names or specifics. That is what you want to do with a logline: keep it simple. That’s an important aspect when describing CHARACTER in your logline. Notice how it says “aging patriarch” instead of “old Don” or “old boss” Although two words, they are carefully picked words that say who he is and an adjective (aging) to describe the character.
CHARACTER ADJECTIVE: Using an adjective to describe your character in your logline is important. The adjective should describe what your character’s dilemma or flaw is. The word “aging” suggests that this is a problem the protagonist faces. Why include it if it wasn’t important to the story?
THE GOAL/THE PROBLEM: The line in The Godfather’s logline “transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son” presents the goal and the problem. The goal is that he is transferring over the empire – but the problem? It goes to his reluctant son. Now it might seem that I am simply repeating from the logline – yes, I am – but it’s important that when studying logline structure that we keep with that’s in the logline and not to get into the specifics of the movie.
WHAT’S HOLDING THEM BACK? In The Godfather’s logline, what is holding the protagonist back? The antagonist would be “the reluctant son” because this presents a road bump in the protagonist’s goal.
While the logline might seem like a familiar word, “Oh, that’s the small sentence used to sell a film.”
No. A tagline and a logline are much different. A tagline is used to sell a film to an audience, and logline is used to sell a film to producers, agents and filmmakers.
Take for example:
Tagline for Back to the Future: “He’s the only kid ever to get into trouble before he was born.”
Logline for Back to the Future: “When a young man accidentally transports himself to the past, he must figure out how to get his parents back together before he ceases to exist.”
Break down of Back to the Future’s Logline: “When [PROTAGONIST] [IS PRESENTED WITH A PROBLEM] he must [SOLVE PROBLEM] before [STAKES HAPPEN.]”
See below for examples of Loglines:
“A mentally handicapped man, while not intelligent, has accidentally been present at many historic moments, but his true love eludes him.” – Forrest Gump
“A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers.” – The Matrix
“A young F.B.I. cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims.” – Silence of the Lambs
“Set in unoccupied Africa during the early days of World War II: An American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications.” – Casablanca
“A Las Vegas-set comedy centered around three groomsmen who lose their about-to-be-wed buddy during their drunken misadventures, then must retrace their steps in order to find him.” – The Hangover
“As a silent movie star wonders if the arrival of talking pictures will cause him to fade into oblivion, he sparks with a young dancer set for a big break.” – The Artist
“Lion cub and future king Simba searches for his identity. His eagerness to please others and penchant for testing his boundaries sometimes gets him into trouble.” – The Lion King