Thursday, December 8, 2011

Article – What’s In A Logline? (Winners Announced!)

For those of you unfamiliar with the First Ten Pages Experiment, what I did was have long time Scriptshadow readers send in a logline for their screenplay. The top five loglines, voted on by those readers, would get the first 10 pages of those scripts reviewed on the site next week. Of those five, if any of them were well-liked enough (by you guys), I’d review them on a future Amateur Friday. Now in a last second surprise (hey, every contest has to have some drama right?), CLOTH removed themselves from the competition due to the production team deciding it’d be best to keep the project under wraps. I was kinda bummed cause I wanted to read the script but that just means one of YOUR scripts gets to take its place. If you’re interested in becoming a part of future private contests such as this one, e-mail with the subject line, “Include.” Here are the top 5!

STATIONARY (54 votes)
GENRE: Comedy-drama
LOGLINE: A businessman begins seeing Post-It Notes that give him directions on how to improve his life.

GENRE: Action/Thriller
LOGLINE: Hired by Homeland Security to envision terrorist attack scenarios, a skillful ex-soldier turned novelist, must battle anarchists when they hijack his nightmare plot to destroy new York

LOGLINE: When a prison guard falls in love with the wife of a death-row inmate, he's forced to choose between his love for her or reveal the discovery of crucial evidence that will save her husband's life.

Genre: Action Comedy
Logline: When a meek and universally abused copy editor is mistaken for the professional killer she accidentally bumped off, she decides to take on this violent new identity until the killer turns out to be not so dead, and very pissed off.

DEEP BURIAL (17 votes)
Genre: Thriller
Logline: Posted out to a remote nuclear waste dump site in the Australian Outback to secretly assess the mental state of the ex-addict Aboriginal worker who mans the plant, an anxious young female psychiatrist is forced into a fight for survival when they find a mysterious stranger stranded in the desert.

Since I know you guys just couldn't survive without knowing who finished 6-10, the rest of the top 10 went like this: The Wreckage, The Lost Colony, Sagittarius and The Crab, The Wake, and then we had a three way tie between Plurally Inclined, The Accidental Lawyer, and Long Way To Tippery. I would be more than happy to read any of these for future Amateur Friday reviews so if any of you are interested in submitting, let me know.

Anyway, this little experiment took on a life of its own and I came to realize just how opinionated people were when it came to loglines. Particularly when their own logline was ignored in favor of someone else’s! But I think there's a bigger lesson to be learned here. When you start looking through a lot of loglines you begin to see them through the eyes of an agent or a producer or a manager. You start to understand that this is the process by which you're being judged. And if you come up with a concept that's only “decent” or “pretty good,” you're going to be out-shined by loglines that are of lot more exciting, even if your script itself is better. It helps you realize just how important concept is.

And really, it begs a bigger question, which is that, "Is it my logline that's the problem or is it my idea that's the problem?" And that's one of the hardest questions to ask yourself as a writer. Because nobody likes to work on something for a year only to find out that nobody's interested in reading it. Yet I see it happen all the time. I would go as far as to say it happens to 75 percent of the writers out there. This is why I tell you to test your logline BEFORE you write your script and not after because if you wait until after, you may find out that you’ve just wasted a year of your life.

So with that in mind, I want to look at the 9 loglines that got 3 or less votes and give you my opinion on why they didn't garner more attention. The objective here is not to embarrass anyone. One of the problems with this business is that nobody tells you WHY they didn’t like something. How can you fix something or move on from something if no one’s explaining why it isn’t working? I want to explain – in my opinion - why these loglines aren’t working. Now some of you are probably asking, “Well if these loglines weren’t working, why did you pick them in the first place?” As I stated to the people submitting, I didn’t just include my favorite loglines. I included loglines from longtime readers who I felt had earned a chance, as well as top commenters whose scripts I was interested in reading. Anyway, let’s look at the logs…

GENRE: Action
LOGLINE: An unhinged former DEA agent sneaks into Mexico (all the while being hunted by his ruthless ex partner) to get revenge on the Chief of Police/Narcotrafficker who captured and tortured him nine months earlier.
Patrick is one of the most knowledgeable commenters on the site. So why didn't his logline attract more attention? My fear is that there isn't anything that stands out or sounds original in the logline. DEA, Mexico, ex-partner, revenge, Chief Of Police. How many movies have you seen that have included this exact set of variables. A LOT. You gotta have that ONE thing that truly stands out about your logline or else you’re fighting an uphill battle.

GENRE: Sci-Fi/Action
LOGLINE: In a near-future world shattered by an alien invasion, a lone Special Forces soldier stumbles on a group of military veterans holding their abandoned VA Hospital as the invaders lay siege.
I'm a big sci-fi fan so at first glance, I see this as something I’d want to read. But a closer look gives me pause. “Lone Special Forces solider” is a very generic sounding character. It seems like every character in an action movie is a lone special forces soldier. Then you have a bunch of military veterans trying to protect their hospital. So now I'm imagining a bunch of old guys fighting aliens. I suppose that might be cool but it almost seems like two different movies - aliens on the one side and military veterans on the other. I can see why this logline would confuse people.

GENRE: Science Fiction/Thriller
LOGLINE: A disturbed woman fleeing an abusive marriage finds work at an observatory in New Mexico where she discovers a relativistic attack is about to be launched against the Earth -- and she's the only one who can do anything about it.
One of the commonalities I see in non-hooky loglines is a disconnect between the elements. For example, here, we have a disturbed woman fleeing an abusive marriage. Then all of a sudden she's the only one who can stop the world from being destroyed. What do those two things have to do with each other? Why do we need to know that she's fleeing a marriage? I'm not saying that her failed marriage isn’t an important part of her character but we only have one sentence to convey what our movie is about. Why point out something that, relatively speaking, is so unimportant?

GENRE: Comedy
TITLE: Finger Lickin Code
LOGLINE: Once the two most senior members of a famous chicken organization are murdered by a one-legged man, a disturbed puzzle solving whiz finds himself with a possibly schizophrenic sidekick, 11 sealed cryptexes, and one secret recipe he must save.
I haven't really figured this out yet so maybe somebody can help me, but there seems to be a real abrasiveness towards wacky comedy ideas. However, we know movies like this get made, so who are the people who like these ideas and where are they hiding? Keeping that in mind, this might be one of those loglines that suffers from information overload. It's just a lot of stuff going on and you can't really wrap your head around it all.

Genre: Drama, Crime, Sports
Title: Short of a Miracle
Logline: A basketball prodigy escapes the inner city to play collegiate basketball, but the actions of his father, a corrupt NYPD officer, threaten to derail his promising career.
I've had this conversation with the writer before (very cool and nice guy) and he seems to be aware of it even though he’s still pushing the script. People just don't seem to be interested in fictional sports movies unless they’re comedies or boxing films. It's as simple as that. I'm not saying this script can’t be great, but everybody in the business knows you can’t get these movies financed so they’re never going to read it. You can drive yourself insane trying to push this idea out there.

GENRE: Contemporary Noir Thriller
LOGLINE: When a sexy female private investigator in Los Angeles tracks down a femme fatale for a playboy from a famous family, she uncovers a deadly conspiracy to rob the family's fortune that may be linked to her own mysterious childhood as an abused orphan.
There's too much going on in this logline. By the time you get to the end of the logline you don't even remember the beginning because there's so much stuff in between. We have a female private investigator, a femme fatale, a playboy, a deadly conspiracy, the robbing of a family fortune, and a mysterious childhood as an abused orphan. Where is the person reading the logline supposed to begin? This logline needs to focus on the core concept of the story and strip everything else away.

GENRE: Horror
TITLE: Fetalgeist
LOGLINE: A pro-life student group finds itself trapped inside a long since abandoned yet very much haunted abortion clinic.
You know I actually thought this one would do better. It has some nice irony in it and a great spooky setting. But maybe the biggest lesson I learned from this process was to stay away from subject matter that divides people so much. That sounds contradictory even as I'm writing it because I've always learned that you SEEK OUT subject matter that causes conflict and brings out passion. But when you're talking about abortion, you're talking about something people just get really wound up about.

GENRE: Heist Movie
TITLE: The Inside Job
LOGLINE: To save a sick little girl, a master thief must team up with his doctor ex-girlfriend to steal stem cells from a vicious mobster who can't know he's had surgery.
I thought this would have potential but I think it runs into trouble in the second half. The second you use the word “mobster” in your logline, you've stepped into an arena of cliché that a lot of people dislike. That's not to say to never put mobsters in your movie. But I find it's a word that turns people off for some reason. Maybe others can chime in on this and let me know if they feel the opposite. But it’s the last part: “vicious mobster who can't know he's had surgery” that’s the real confusing part. The mobster can't know he's had his own surgery? If your logline is even a little confusing, you’re screwed. Because how can somebody expect you to write a clear story if you can’t even write a clear sentence? That's why it's so important to workshop your logline and get others opinions on it so you know that it works.

GENRE: Horror (Realism ala "Carrie")
TITLE: Deafo
LOGLINE: In a town torn apart by enforced pit closures, a deaf teenage loner sets out on a dark journey of violent revenge against everyone who has ever wronged him
Again, look at the disconnect between the elements here. The first half of the logline is about a town torn apart by “Enforced pit closures (a clunky phrase that probably shouldn't have been included). Then the second half is about a deaf teenage loner who goes out for revenge. What do enforced pit closures have to do with a deaf teenage loner? Guys, the elements in your logline (and story for that matter!) have to connect. They have to be cohesive. The Matrix isn't about a circus trainer who learns that he's living inside of a computer program. It's about a *programmer* who learns that he's living inside of a computer program.

Those are my thoughts on the loglines. But really, I’m just one opinion. Let’s go to you guys, the people who voted. Why did you pass up on these loglines? Try and be constructive and not just tear them to shreds. Remember, we’re trying to help each other here. Let’s learn what people dislike so we can all avoid these mistakes in the future.