With so many lines to think about, how can screenwriters possibly concentrate on their film script? I’ll demystify the “dos” and the “do not dos” of all these lines. We’ll begin with some definitions all script writers should know.
These are an old term for scene headings. They were phasing them out while I was going through film school, but are still used. They are used to breakdown a movie script into “slugs” or “scenes” or “story beats” to indicate how many locations there are in a film script, an overview of the key action points and a rapid way of finding certain scenes. Think of them like bullet points in a document to highlight key elements. There are however, script purists who consider scene headings to be different to sluglines.
Sluglines tend to appear in shooting scripts and can be described as “sub headings”. Sluglines are used to aid the reader and help clarify the screenplay. They can be used for split screen telephone conversations, answering machine messages, print (posters, magazines etc).
An example might be:
SCENE HEADING: INT. GIDEON’S PLAY ROOM – NIGHT
SLUGLINE: MONTAGE SEQUENCE, or CLOSE ON GIDEON.
Loglines are a more common screenwriting term. They are a 1-2 sentence description of your screenplay which carry the entire burden of selling your movie script.
They aim to identify the main character, the tone, the conflict and give an idea of theme and plot. Some loglines can stretch out to 3-4 sentences and are more like mini synopses.
A new trend is emerging to describe your film in 25 words or less. Whatever the format, the purpose of the logline is for you to quickly pitch your film script to a producer and talent to convey the general concept. Another recent trend in loglines is to pose a hypothetical question such as “what if”? or “imagine if”?
The basic anatomy of a logline is: Character A must achieve a goal, but character B blocks him in a unique way different to other films. Character A emerges a changed person by learning something about themselves or humanity at large.
I used to have a love hate relationship with loglines (mainly hate) because they force me to decide on what my screenplay is really about. Now, I write the logline along with the premise before I start writing, to help me better focus on my script. Frivolity aside, they are powerful devices to stay focussed and avoiding writing unnecessary scenes.
A typical logline for “The Hangover” might read something like this: Three best buddies take their goofball, soon to be married friend on a wild bachelor party in Vegas. The wedding is less than two days away, the groom is nowhere to be found and nobody remembers what happened the night before. They must retrace their steps to find him, or his Bridezilla won’t be happy.
We get a sense of genre (comedy), a sense of conflict (wedding with no groom) and a sense of urgency (must find groom). We get a sense of character “best buddies”, “goofball fiance” and “Bridezilla”). We visualize the comic mix of such explosive characters. The retracing of steps tells us where the plot might go. The word count for this logline is 49 words, but I have seen loglines up to 60 words.
A 25 word version might read: “The wedding is 40 hours away. Following a drunken bachelor party in Vegas, there is no groom, no memory, a baby and a nervous bride”. (25 words) I threw the baby bit in (or the tiger in the bathroom) to suggest a “set piece” to aid the comedy.
Tagline are sometimes called “straplines” (nothing to do with sunbathing with your bikini top on) and belong on marketing materials such as movie posters. These are used to give the essence, cadence and flavor of the film. They titillate and intrigue the audience and hopefully get them to watch the film. They don’t necessarily reveal character, conflict or story, but rather generate a rapid emotional response.
Examples include “Reality Is A Thing Of The Past” (The Matrix)
“Some Guys Just Can’t Handle Vegas” (The Hangover)
Plotlines are structural terms which define an individual story progression within a screenplay. They should be self contained and contain a setup, middle and resolution.
Now I’m really off subject.
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