So far, we’ve looked at personal voice to discover our thought process in how we tell a story and make it our own. In writing styles, I made you look at the different ways people take in approach to writing a story.
Both lessons were meant to help you discover the kind of writer that you are. How to know what you want to say. Now that we’re there, let’s begin the actual process of screenplay writing.
First, we start with the basics: Loglines.
Lesson 3: Loglines
Most of these next two lessons were taken from Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat. I’m teaching them because it’s where I began, but also, an important lesson in selling your screenplay.
So, what is a logline?
A logline is a one-liner synopsis of your story. A summary of everything your story is about written in exactly one (at most 2) sentences. It should be specific in telling the reader the story. It should also, hook the audience and leave them with the promise of wanting more. More than anything else, it must sell to your target immediately – making them envision how marketable your vision is and whether it is worth the risk.
So basically, it’s very heavy for what’s essentially one sentence.
Why are loglines important?
- For starters, to get any movie made you’ll eventually need to learn how to sell it. Going off on a tangent trying to explain your characters and settings and original concepts and cool sequences that make your story both exciting and unique? Not going to cut it. This is not ADHD storytelling. You need to focus that pitch. Movie making is a split-second decision business, where you always need to be ready to sell.
- It summarizes your concept in an easy to read way. So that if you have a headache looking at oodles of pages you have scribbled, you can look at it and remember the story you’re trying to tell.
- You can base your outline around it. I can’t stress enough, outlining is probably more critical in screenplay writing than it is in writing both comic books or novels combined.
An outline in screenwriting becomes the basis of a treatment, which is sometimes, all you even need to sell a movie (I’ve met people in the industry who don’t even start by writing full-length scripts. They pitch on loglines and treatments, and then write the movie).
Here are some examples of loglines. I wrote the first one based on one of my scripts. I also supplied a brief description/synopsis of it. The others are more famous films.
THE GHOST IN THE MACHINE
“The maker of the world’s first brain-to-brain neural network comes under investigation when a wealthy industrialist commits suicide while using his program.”
Description/Synopsis of THE GHOST IN THE MACHINE:
“In a not so distant future, science has finally bridged the gap between mind and machine, creating specialized devices able to connect human minds through the internet. Immediately, it became adapted for use in corporate America: the ability to micromanage and network with individual workers, streamlining a new industrial complex.
The efficiency of America’s product development had made all forms of competition obsolete. The device, redefining industry standards, had expectations to expand release onto the global market. That is, until the death of Kensei Nakamoto, Japanese business tycoon and the first user of the device in Asia. His death has led to an FBI investigation of William Maven, the device’s charming yet despised innovator, who now seeks to find and fix the error in his experiment.
But what William finds out about the machine is much more than he bargained for.”
“The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.”
“The lives of two mob hit men, a boxer, a gangster’s wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption.”
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
“In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a woman rebels against a tyrannical ruler in search for her homeland with the aid of a group of female prisoners, a psychotic worshiper, and a drifter named Max.”
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
“The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.”
I’d like to take this moment to talk briefly about Bird Box. It’s a movie on Netflix, starring Sandra Bullock, about a post-apocalypse world filled with unseen monsters that summon a person’s worst fears – causing its unfortunate onlookers to commit suicide.
It’s a decent film and one of Netflix’s biggest hits of recent memory
What most people don’t know is that Bird Box was originally a novel by songwriter Josh Malerman. His first draft of the book, written just before the release of similarly themed post-apocalypse movies The Road and The Happening.
Now for the industry, you know it’s horrible to release a title of similar nature at the same time. So inevitable delays were expected. However, Josh Malerman was also privileged enough to know that his story script was greenlit as a movie prior to even finishing the actual book.
What’s interesting about the movie is how different people’s takes of the film are. If I told you to summarize Bird Box – it’s not as easy as you’d think. The reluctant mother coming to acceptance is an obvious theme, yet if you look at it closely… you can take away a lot from this movie.
How it looks at mental illness, treats the idea of motherhood, or examines how people play blind at troubling issues of culture – all relevant to this film. Part of this is because of how thin the plot is in developing its ideas at times, but a lot of it is also because of the way the film contextualizes fear.
It’s a divided film. Which is precisely why I’d like you to work with it.
Try This: Writing a Logline
- Watch Bird Box.
- Write the logline to Bird Box. Pitch the movie in one to two sentences. Pay attention to your writer style choices – some may be better than other approaches, depending on what aspects of the movie you’re trying to sell.
Next week, I’ll go even further in depth of logline structure.