Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Almightly Logline

 Logline: A sentence that gets your script read, or more heartbreakingly, not read.

I shudder when I have to write one. I am constantly re-thinking them when I do. And I’m never, and I mean NEVER happy with them, even after the 50th rewrite of that one, short, simple little line.

Because this one simple line has to sum up a gigantic volume of time, effort, passion and polish. This one line might encompass a year of your blood, sweat and tears. (Oh come on, admit it. You’ve have too cried over your stories.) 

And regardless of if you do well in a contest (which is truly great, I’m not saying it isn’t) or if your writing group thinks you have a sure fire hit (which is also incredibly rewarding, no doubt about it), or if you know in the pit of your gut, in that one place that never ever lies, that this is a damn good script…

It doesn’t mean jack if you can’t get it read by that Influential Group of agents/managers/producers who can get real traction for your script.

And they only read it if the logline grabs em. 

Just to be clear. I’m not talking about a writer whose name is what gets a script read. So, for example, if Terry Rossio & Ted Elliott have a script, their logline could suck ass, and everyone would be climbing over themselves to read their script anyway. Maybe they don’t even have to write loglines anymore (why should they?!) but I’m talking about Ms. No-Name-Writer here, with “please-read-my-script” tattooed on her forehead. The thing that will get my script read is a good logline.  

Is that fair? Damn straight it is. Because the flip side to this is, I often only see a movie if the tagline grabs me via advertising. And that’s a whole completed movie that potentially took years, and tons of people, and lots of money, and I bet their fair share of tears, to make. And I can judge all that work by one line in two seconds and sum it up with “Nah sounds boring.” And I move onto the next movie in the list. I do this. I sometimes even judge a whole body of work on just the title alone! I do. I bet you do too.

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”. There is no way I’d see that movie. And there are other people who are dying to see it. All based on the title alone. Nevermind a logline. Which btw, if you’re interested is: “Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, discovers vampires are planning to take over the United States. He makes it his mission to eliminate them.” Anyway… Seth Grahame-Smith wrote it, and he’s on the hot list now. He wrote Dark Shadows. So I’m obviously talking smack. Vamp Hunter is probably going to rule the box office. But it will rule it without my $15.

So I don’t BLAME the Influential Group for judging my script on a logline. I get it. It’s how it works. It just makes me so super-hyper-aware of how important that damn unforgiving logline is. 

Before I started marketing my scripts, I knew I had to write one; I saved it for the end (procrastinated), categorized it under “cursed marketing” and didn’t really give it much weight. WRONG. I couldn’t have been more misguided.

Now, with a bit of marketing experience under my belt, and seeing what scripts of mine get requested, and which ones don’t (despite being a finalist in Page) I see that the logline is KING. So much so that I can’t afford to think of it as a royal pain-in-the-ass anymore. In fact, I have to start thinking of the logline as something that's not only used to get someone to read my script. I have to start thinking of it as a development tool for my story.

It will show me if my main character is worth writing a story about. It will tell me if the conflict is big enough and if the stakes are high enough. But most importantly… it will tell me if my story has heart. It will show me if it’s a movie I would want to see or if I would pass over it in a listing of 15 other movies with “Nah sounds boring”. It would make it perfectly clear to me, what is it about this story that I simply have to tell it? It will sell me on my story.

I’m finding it interesting to go through IMDB and my cinema guides, and read the loglines of movies that have been made. Some of the loglines seriously suck. And some of those movies are good too, and the logline doesn’t do it justice. Which just confirms that loglines are freakin’ hard! But when I come across a good logline, it sticks out. It makes me smile. I nod my head. Yeah… I’d see that. You know the idea has heart. Even if the resulting movie was terrible, that script got read!

Obviously, getting a request to read a script is just step one, but without passing step one… you’re still at step one. And a logline does not determine if the script is good. But it will determine if the concept is good. And maybe even more importantly, it will show if the story has that special something that everyone looks for, but no one can define. In the age of ADD, I call it AAK (An Attention Keeper).

So, that’s my weekend task. I am going to re-examine 2 of my loglines, and see why they are not getting script requests. I sense a few rewrites in my near future once I figure out the problem with The Almighty Logline.