I recently came across a website dedicated to perfecting the art of the logline. Logline It! is a site that allows you to test your logline “before you send it into the world”.
I have a difficult relationship with loglines, they’re hard to write, requiring the kind of sparse clarity you won’t find anywhere else. I know Twitter limits you to 140 characters but Twitter is the shotgun compared to the precision of a logline’s sniper rifle.
As with all things to do with art of screenwriting, the logline has a history. The term goes back to the old days of the Hollywood studios. Stories and screenplays would be “logged” by the story department. The logline identifies projects throughout its life at the studios. A good logline is supposed to “convey the dramatic story of a screenplay in the most abbreviated manner possible”. It should tell us who the story is about, not his name but the essence of who he is, what he wants, his desire, and finally what stands in his way, his antagonist.
I write and rewrite mine until they stop making sense. Frankly it’s a little soul destroying. If I’m honest I don’t really finish one, it just gets to the point where I have to say that’s it. I make it as good as I can but always have this nagging doubt that I just haven’t nailed it.
So you can imagine the trepidation I felt when I posted a logline for Carrion on Logline It!. What follows is the conversation about my Carrion longline.
Darrin Nightingale posted:
When the government release swarms of drug eating insects to kill the junkie population a self-righteous policeman risks everything as he struggles to save his drug using sister from the tyrannical forces of prohibition.
An interesting concept and logline – with protag, goal, obstacles and stakes! It can be trimmed down though. Howabout:
When the government releases a swarm of junkie killing insects, a self righteous policeman must save his addict sister.
Darrin Nightingale says:
I thought I was being concise until I read your version. I like the sparseness. Part of me has been afraid to be that essential. But, as your version eloquently illustrates, sparseness is the name of the game with loglines. There is one thing I would change. I prefer the phrase “drug using sister” instead of “addict sister”. How does this sound?
When the government release swarms of junkie killing insects a self-righteous policeman struggles to save his drug using sister.
I know it’s pedantic but the distinction that not all drug users are addicts is really important to the story. I might be wrong. You tell me. Thanks for taking the time to reply.
I suppose it depends on the drug. If it’s heroin, I’d say “heroin”. Unless she’s just a casual weed smoker, in which case this is a different film that what I’d be expecting.
If it’s prescription pain-killers, that’s another story as well. I think I need to know what drug.
Darrin Nightingale says:
The story deals specifically with illicit drugs. The insects are genetically engineered to eat drugs. A different insect for each drug. The pathology of the insects involve the drug users in their reproductive cycle. Basically the insects are released. Feed on the drugs. Then attack a user of that drug. The insects larva then use the host as food. Literally eating the user from the inside out. Killing the host when they mature and escape the body. The insects are manifestation of prohibition taken to its merciless unrelenting conclusion.
Kriss Tolliday says:
I agree it does have all the relevant components for a log line so kudos my friend, however (always a but) I would lose the generic ‘risks everything’ and trim down some unnecessary parts like the ‘tyrannical forces of prohibition’. It is a good idea but just needs telling in fewer words. I wander if maybe to not include the insects and keep the way they kill them a mystery or be able to get what they are across in fewer words as the opening line takes a while to build momentum.
Overall though a really interesting idea.
Darrin Nightingale says:
I agree with everything you said but didn’t really see it so clearly until you pointed it out. The phrases “risks everything” and “tyrannical forces of prohibition” are, as you said, generic and unnecessary. Taking on board your advise to not include the insect and prompted by patrockd’s reply I offer this revision.
When the government start to kill the junkie population, a self-righteous policeman fights to save his drug using sister.
How does that sound? This has been really interesting for me. Thanks for taking the time to reply.
Not sure I like the phrase ‘self righteous’. With it’s negative connotation you could be starting off with a hero nobody likes. That’s okay in a script but in a logline it can be troublesome. It almost makes me want the sister to be the protag. Also you might want to give the guy more of a connection to the program: When the government’s secret plan to kill junkies with mutant insects projects a DEA administrator’s ‘casual use’ sister as ‘acceptable collateral damage’ he takes on a swarm of self righteous DEA agents.
CounteRAID (winner of the product placement award)
Swarm to Protect
A slight fix to get it to 30 words:
A secret plan to kill junkies with mutant insects projects a DEA agents’s ‘casual use’ sister as ‘acceptable collateral damage’. He takes on a swarm of self-righteous administrators and bugs.
Darrin Nightingale says:
Thanks for your input but your ideas take the story in a completely different direction. My story basically forces a prohibitionist to experience the cruelty of prohibition and deals with the outcome of that experience. The protagonist’s self-righteousness is a manifestation of his beliefs as a prohibitionist. By the end of the story he is the polar opposite but self-righteous really is the only way to describe his moral and psychological weakness at the beginning of the story. I’m not too worried about describing a hero nobody likes. I hope he is someone people empathise with. For me his self-righteousness raises a moral dilemma that is interesting. He’s a prohibitionist with a drug using sister. When the prohibitionists start to kill the junkie population. What does he do? Does he remain a prohibitionist and let his sister be killed? Or does he take action and risk everything to save her? It forces him into a corner and asks him to make a compelling choice. Your logline hints at a secret plan. This is interesting because early in the development of the story the drug eating insects were part of a coup d’etat. The crisis caused by the insects was a stepping stone that allowed a military dictatorship to take power. I abandoned the idea because I was unable to reconcile the general hostility prohibitionist have towards users and the inherent secrecy of a plan. Prohibitionist’s aren’t shy about tell us they think users should be killed. It seemed more compelling for the protagonist to go up against the whole of society, rather than have him uncover a plot to kill a class of people society vilifies. Thanks for taking the time to reply. It’s allowed me to clarify my idea and steer my logline to be that bit better.
Thanks for the explanation. With that in mind you might consider making it more a part of the conflict than character description… in the logline
A crusading policeman must reassess his self-righteous nature when a government plan to use mutant insects to kill junkies indiscriminately targets his drug using sister.
If I had to pick one logline I’d have to go with patrockd’s version. It really is the essence of the story told in as few words as possible. Interestingly cynosurer’s comments highlighted for me the moral dilemma at the core of the story. I hadn’t realised how much I’d invested in the protagonists self-righteousness, closing the gap between that weakness and his sister is the essence of the story.
2 Replies to “My experience with Logline It!”