Selling your screenplay comes down to executing on a few basic skills. First, you have to write an excellent script. A high quality story that is both well-executed and technically sound is a must have. The competition is increasingly tough out there, so in order to reach producers and really grab hold of their attention, you need to sell the sizzle. You need to know how to write a screenplay logline.
Is this something you’ve heard of? If what I’m talking about sounds strange, don’t worry. There are a lot of new and emerging screenwriters who have never heard of a log line and would not know where to begin. This blog should be a perfect place for you to start mastering this critical skill.
Here are the basics you need to know.
How To Write A Screenplay Logline – Why Is It Important?
As you probably know, there are a lot of screenwriters out there trying to break into the business. Looking at the seemingly never ending boom in streaming platforms and emergence of foreign markets, the need for content has never been greater, whether that be television or feature film.
The job of a producer, agent or manager is to go out and find the best work possible. They look at the markets of new and emerging screenwriters and available spec projects for what appeals to them. What does that look like in practice? For these busy professionals (of which I know a few) getting to the very best screenplays and screenwriters is a process of sifting through a lot of, well, I hate to say, mediocrity.
Just because demand is high and there are a lot of eager screenwriters, does not mean they’re all good. To add to that reality, not every story, however well written the screenplay is, is a good fit for every producer out there. You may have an award winning horror screenplay, but if you’re vying for the attention of a producer in regency romance, you’re not going to get too far.
“Good project, but not right for me.”
– Every Busy Producer
A screenplay logline is valuable because it captures an entire story, all 100-20 pages, in 30-40 words, usually a single sentence, capturing the story’s sizzle. Nothing extra, only the barest possible bones. Producers, managers and agents, rely on this attention grabbing brevity because their success is based on looking at as many projects as possible.
How to write a screenplay logline is important for you to understand because, in the long run, you stand a much better shot of getting someone to read 30-40 words than you do a full length script. Once you’ve made it through numerous gatekeepers, each validating your screenplay’s potential value, they will take the time to read the full thing. Selling your screenplay is, like most things, a numbers game. Increase your chances by learning how to craft this extremely important piece of marking material.
The Screenplay Logline Basics
Before I go into the basics, let me just say, in the beginning, I really struggled with how to write a screenplay logline. I mean, really struggled. Still, to this day, I write and re-write my loglines dozens of times until they are absolutely perfect.
Why are they so difficult?
The first reason is that screenplay loglines rely on brevity. 30-40 words. If you’re anything like me, getting a 100 page script down to such an economic sentence is tremendously difficult. We, as writers and storytellers, are wired to take our time when we get to the page.
What is this about brevity?
To fit your story into 30-40 words, you start by highlighting the main character (or, in rare instances you’ll see below, characters). Who is your story’s hero? What do they do and, most importantly, what is their core problem? Nothing else pertaining to the subplots, B-story, or whatever else, is relevant.
Next you set up the conflict and the stakes. For a lot of writers, this part can be quite difficult (especially if your screenplay is under-developed and that conflict isn’t clear yet) but it’s important to know the conflict awaiting your hero and what happens if they fail. If their problem feels inconsequential, or the stakes flimsy, the logline (and the story) isn’t going to catch attention.
Lastly, maybe most importantly, be sure to call attention to what is unique about the story. Remember, these gatekeepers look at hundreds, if not thousands, of these every single day. You’re selling the sizzle and, in order to do that, you have to clearly point it out.
Look at a few loglines in action:
“An insomniac office worker and a devil-may-care soap maker form an underground fight club that evolves into something much, much more.”
Recognize that movie? It’s “Fight Club”, one of the rare instances you can get away with a dual protagonist in a logline.
“Two imprisoned men bond over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency.”
That one should be obvious. It’s “The Shawshank Redemption”, an absolute classic of a movie, one everyone knows (or should know).
The internet is positively brimming with great examples of how to write a screenplay logline. If you’re struggling to understand, try writing a logline for the next movie you sit down to watch. Focus on what the core story is about and who the main characters are. Identify the conflict, just the central one, there are usually more than one, and watch out for what’s at stake.
What To Do After You Learn How To Write A Screenplay Logline
After you’ve diligently practiced your craft, written a script, and learned how to write a screenplay logline, you can start marketing your project with confidence.
Where do you use a screenplay logline though?
You’ll use your logline in almost every piece of correspondence you send out as a screenwriter. Find out about a producer looking for projects, and wondering what you send them? The logline. Entering a contest? They’ll ask for it on the form, no question about it. Even when you go out to pitch your screenplay in person, whether at a conference or a pitchfest, you’ll base that pitch off of your logline. Whenever I write a screenplay synopsis, I go back to the logline, look at how it works and start there.
We say that formatting is the basis for writing a killer screenplay. When it comes to marketing, selling that story, knowing how to write a screenplay logline is your core skill.