How to Create Your Logline: Tips for Screenwriters

Sep 7, 2023

Picture this: You’re at an event, engrossed in conversation with a producer. As you both step into an elevator, the producer casually asks, “What’s your latest screenplay about?” You’ve got a mere 30 seconds, maybe 45 if you’re lucky, to make an impression. There’s no time for a long-winded plot explanation and you obviously need to put your best foot forward. What comes to your rescue? Your logline – the screenwriter’s secret weapon for elevator pitches.

 

What is a Logline?

A logline is a one- or two-sentence description of your film’s central idea. It’s the first contact any producer will likely have with your script and your ticket to setting the stage for further discussions.

Think of it as a concise summary of your story that piques people’s interest and leaves them saying, “Tell me more.”

Crafting a compelling logline is your first step to selling your script and bringing it to life on the big screen.

 

What Do You Need to Craft a Logline?

To create a killer logline, you need to blend these key ingredients from your story:

  1. Protagonist: Who is your story about? There can be more than one.
  2. Goal: What does your protagonist want? What’s their big mission?
  3. Antagonist: Who or what is standing in the way of your protagonist from achieving their goal? There can be more than one.
  4. Inciting Incident: What sets your protagonist on their journey? What disrupts their world and pushes them toward achieving their goal?
  5. Stake: What is on the line for your protagonist? What does he/she have to gain or lose, and when?
  6. Action: What’s your protagonist’s plan? What are they doing to achieve their goal?

When properly combined, these elements will bring out the spectacle of any story. 

Logline sample - Moonlight movie by Barry Jenkins.

Moonlight | Written by Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney

A spectacle is that exciting thing about your story, which can be found in any, some, or a combination of the elements mentioned above. A great logline elicits interest by bringing out the spectacle of the story. The magic lies in how you mix them.

See if you can spot the spectacle in the logline examples below:

  • The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son. – The Godfather (1972)
  • A young African-American man grapples with his identity and sexuality while experiencing the everyday struggles of childhood, adolescence, and burgeoning adulthood. – Moonlight (2016)
  • A journey back in time as an African warrior becomes a slave to save his captors’ clan from the invasion of some ruthless slave- traders in 18th century Africa. – Slave Warrior (2007)
  • When the news of war breaks, a poor mother will seek every means still available to leave the war-torn country with her 7-year-old son.

 

How Do You Write A Logline?

There are two major ways of combining your story’s elements to craft a compelling logline. Let’s take a look at them with examples from popular films.

Formula 1

Inciting Incident + Protagonist(s) + Action + Antagonist(s) (in no particular order).

Examples:

1. After being rescued by a German bounty hunter (Inciting Incident), a freed slave (Protagonist) sets out to rescue his wife (Action) from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner (Antagonist) – Django Unchained (2012).

2. When a young boy disappears (Inciting Incident), his mother, a police chief, and his three friends (Protagonists) must confront (Action) terrifying forces (Antagonist) to get him back – Stranger Things season 1.

3. Blacksmith Will Turner (Protagonist) teams up with eccentric Captain Jack Sparrow (Action) to save his love (Inciting Incident) from Jack’s former pirate allies, who are now undead (Antagonists) – Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003).

Logline sample - Django Unchained by Quentin Tarantino

Django Unchained (2012) | Written by Quentin Tarantino

Formula 2

Protagonist(s) + Action + Antagonist + Goal + Stakes (in no particular order.).

Examples:

1. A team of superheroes (Protagonists) must learn to work together (Action) and confront a meddlesome demigod (Antagonist), to stop him and his alien army (Goal) from taking over the world and enslaving humanity (Stakes). – Avengers: Endgame (2019).

2. N.Y.C. cop John McClane (Protagonist) comes to L.A. to visit his estranged wife (Action) when her entire company is taken hostage (Stake) by a terrorist group (Antagonist). John might be the only one who can save them (Goal) – Die Hard (1988).

Can you think of any other movies that use these formulas? Let us know in the comments.

 

Helpful Tips

1. Describe your protagonist with punchy adjectives

  • An ambitious politician.
  • An enthusiastic scientist.

2. Give your protagonist a clear, compelling goal

  • Saving people from a terrorist group.
  • Finding the cure for cancer.

3. Use irony (pairing opposites) to emphasize the spectacle

  • The dumbest man in the world is Earth’s only hope of surviving annihilation.

4. Raise the stakes for added drama

  • Failure to stop the Demigod means the end of humanity

5. Don’t be afraid to break the rules sometimes. The formulas are simply guidelines and informed suggestions.

Logline sample - Alien by Ridley Scott

Alien (1979) | Written by Dan O’Bannon

 

Let’s Clarify: Logline vs. Tagline vs. Synopsis 

Logline vs. Tagline

A logline is not the same as a tagline. While your logline sells the story to the producers, your tagline is an advertising strategy to create buzz for your movie and stir up excitement in the audience. Taglines are usually shorter than a logline and are limited to a simple but exciting line or phrase.

Examples:

  • Tagline: “Who you gonna call?” – Ghostbusters (2016)
  • Logline: With paranormal activity on the rise, a Columbia University academic, her ghost-chasing friend, the friend’s business partner, and an MTA employee join forces to bust ghosts and save New York.
  • Tagline: “In space, no one can hear you scream.” – Alien (1979)
  • Logline: In the far reaches of space, the crew on board the ship “Nostromo” is returning to Earth until it receives a distress call, an alien one.

Logline vs. Synopsis

Loglines and synopsis are also different. Your synopsis is a narration of actions that make up the story’s plot. It is much longer than the logline and shows the story’s progression from start to finish.

Examples:

1. Paranormal researcher Abby Yates and physicist Erin Gilbert are trying to prove that ghosts exist in modern society. When strange apparitions appear in Manhattan, Gilbert and Yates turn to engineer Jillian Holtzmann for help. Also joining the team is Patty Tolan, a lifelong New Yorker who knows the city inside and out. Armed with proton packs and plenty of attitude, the four women prepare for an epic battle as more than 1,000 mischievous ghouls descend on Times Square. – Ghostbusters (2016)

2. In deep space, the crew of the commercial starship Nostromo is awakened from their cryo-sleep capsules halfway through their journey home to investigate a distress call from an alien vessel. The terror begins when the crew encounters a nest of eggs inside the alien ship. An organism from inside an egg leaps out and attaches itself to one of the crew, causing him to fall into a coma. – Alien (1979)

 

You’ve Got This!

There’s no denying that condensing several events into a catchy description that perfectly captures the essence of your story can feel like a puzzle, but it’s a puzzle worth solving. A stellar logline can be the difference between your script getting optioned or not.

So use any of the formulas described above to create your logline, create multiple options if you must, and share them with others for feedback to find the most striking one. You’ve got this!

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