In its rudimentary form, a logline depicts the key elements of your screenplay; the main character, the goal, the obstacle, the plot and genre. That’s just for starters. A logline also conveys the mood, tone, pacing and overall feel of your movie script. That’s a lot of heavy lifting for screenwriters.
Loglines are a beast unto themselves. They are not merely an afterthought, something that must be whipped up for a pitch meeting. They are your bible, your road map. That’s why it’s vital to craft your logline BEFORE you write your film script.
What makes a movie logline effective?
I’ve previously discussed conflict and obstacles, which are simply dramatic devices which impede the main character’s progress to achieve their goal. Apart from the key elements which form the spine of your logline, there are other aspects which enrich it.
A dilemma is a fork in the action road (critical incident.) The main character has hit a stumbling block in their quest to pursue their goal. A decision needs to made in terms of a line of action to pursue. With actions, come rewards and/or consequences. A dilemma can never be an easy or obvious choice, otherwise your story collapses. The main character must chose the less onerous decision, which is still fraught with danger.
A hook is a slight permutation to your story which makes the familiar yet interesting. Same but different. It engages and retains your audience without being too outlandish. Many loglines begin with the hook, especially in live film or TV pitches. A strong hook can make the difference between a producer requesting your script and dismissing it for being too derivative.
A dictionary definition of irony is “an action which has the opposite, or different effect to the one initially desired.”This effect provides the main character with what they truly need rather than what they want, thus enabling them to grow. Dramatic irony occurs when the audience or one character knows or perceives more than another character.
Let’s dissect a log line from the movie “Pretty Woman” (a classic movie from the 80s) to demonstrate this: “A cutthroat businessman who wants to remain emotionally detached needs a date for some social engagements and hires a beautiful prostitute he meets… only to fall in love.”
This log line sets up the dilemma while making us feel empathy for the central character with the words, “A cutthroat businessman who wants to remain detached needs a date for some social engagements….” Then, it gives us the action that he takes, “and hires a beautiful prostitute he meets….” The irony is the goal: “fall in love” is completely the opposite of what he set out to do.
“Pretty Woman” spent many years in development. Earlier drafts of the script were much darker and sinister. Through multiple rewrites, the right tonal and thematic balance was struck, enabling it to become a global hit.
It really is worth the time screenwriters take to develop a powerful logline for their screenplays, because it is a strong selling tool.
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