The one sentence summary of your film script is the most crucial line of your screenplay submission package. If it fails to convey the essence of the story in an accurate yet compelling way, the rest of your film pitch is likely to remain unread. What are the causes of a script summary that fails to grab the attention?
Loglines that Fail to Compel
It is hard to sum up a three-act story weaved by several characters that have different agendas in a one-sentence screenplay summary. In an attempt to put the whole essence of the film in twenty-five words the writer may try to cram too many words into the logline, resulting in a stilted sentence. The other downfall is trying to entice by being vague and open-ended, leaving too much to the imagination.
What is a Movie Tagline?
It must be made clear here, that a story logline is not the same as a tagline. A logline informs on what a film is about; a tagline is promotional text used on movie posters aimed at a certain audience, and may not inform on what the film is about. Examples of Taglines are: Armageddon (1998) ‘Earth, it was fun while it lasted,’ and Chicken Run (2000) ‘Escape or die frying.’
The tagline piques the interest of a targeted audience. A film logline (or one-liner) informs on what the film is about and helps a potential film agent or producer make an informed decision on whether to represent the writer or read the screenplay or not.
How Not to Write a Film Logline
So, when conceiving a great film logline, avoid the following:
Words and phrases that imply what the reader should be feeling when reading the logline. For instance, a terrifying secret, a tense spy thriller, a horrifying ghost story, the weirdest sci-fi, or the most shocking slasher story you’ve ever read. Stick instead to the facts of what the story is about. Let the reader decide what to feel about the logline.
Avoid clichéd word pairings and phases, such as, ‘nail biting’, or ‘boy meets girl.’ Go instead for original word pairings.
Don’t make comparisons with other blockbusters or bestsellers whilst hawking your script. For instance, Harry Potter meets Terminator, or a modern-day Romeo and Juliet.
Try not to cram in too much in your logline creating a stilted compilation of words that permits little room for breath, such as: ‘an undercover cop infiltrates a drugs cartel only to discover his daughter is seeing the leader’s father-in-law who is going through an acrimonious divorce with the cop’s supervisor.’ In such cases, less is more.
Writing a Snappy Log Line for a Movie Pitch
Imagine someone asking ‘what’s the film about?’ The response should be a pithy one-liner that provides just that in no more than 25 words. Conceiving such logline is not as easy as it sounds. Grab a thesaurus and bear in mind the essential film elements: the genre, the hero’s aim, the story’s moral and the climax of the story.
Words to Avoid in the Story Logline
Some words just won’t do in this most crucial sentence of your film package. This includes lazy adverbs and redundant adjectives. Don’t go for the first words you can think of. Dig out the thesaurus and find words that will do the work of two or even three. Don’t sacrifice the snappiness of the logline for the sake of telling all; leave a little to the imagination. A logline for a screenplay I wrote entitled The Shuttered Room (adapted from my novel) telling the story of a kidnapped woman, read, ‘a woman held hostage plays psychological games with her abductors in order to escape.’
Look for powerful words that evoke the senses. Prefer active verbs to passive sentences. This means avoiding ‘was’ and ‘were’ in your logline or words with clunky suffixes such as ‘mindlessness.’ Hone in on accurate, punchy nouns and verbs. ‘Pursuit’ might be better than ‘search’; ‘hostage’ might be better than ‘prisoner.’
A Memorable Screenplay Summary
A good exercise might be to write the first thing that enters the head for the logline and then pare back. Cut description words, leaving verbs and nouns. Check each word out in the thesaurus to find better alternatives. Can an abstract noun be replaced with a more tangible word?
Change the sentence construction if need be. Swap sentence clauses and see if this tightens up the logline or makes it flow.
Writing a One Liner for a Script
Pitching a screenplay in one sentence should not be done at haste, as the one-liner could make the difference between an agent reading the screenplay and passing on. A thesaurus is crucial for finding the perfect words for a punchy one-liner. This means paring the sentence down to it barest elements of verbs and nouns, trying a reshuffle and then introducing a few crucial descriptive words to bring colour to the logline. If the logline refuses to work put it away and look at the logline another day with fresh eyes.
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