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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Loglines Are Not Taglines...

... Cannot. Stress. This. Enough. Every week I see scores of pitches - sent to my inbox, my ears or via script listing sites - and every week I see Loglines and Taglines being mixed up. PLEASE STOP.


A tagline is the strapline you see on a movie poster or DVD box. These are thought up by the PR guys usually and have NOTHING TO DO WITH THE WRITER, it's well after the writer has finished his/her involvement. Of course, sometimes writers are asked to provide taglines - sometimes when looking for finance, other times when taking part in initiatives like the (now defunct) Eon Screenwriters Workshop. I've done both and coming up with taglines can be challenging and very interesting - AS LONG AS you don't mix them up with loglines!!!! It's one of the most obvious ways of turning the reader OFF your pitch.

Here are some taglines I found on a basic Google search:

"He lived the American Dream... With a vengeance." (Scarface)

"An epic of miniature proportions" (A Bug's Life)

"EARTH - take a good look. Today could be your last." (Independence Day)

"The Toys are back in town." (Toy Story 2)

"Whoever wins... We Lose." (Alien Vs Predator)

A complete listing of Hollywood film taglines over the decades listed chronologically

As you can see, taglines rely on puns and/or make reference to stuff the "average joe" already knows about -- ie. the fabled "American Dream", the notions of winning/losing, contrasting words or famous song lyrics (Busy Lizzy's "The BOYS are back in town"), etc.

The best taglines are SLICK and CLEVER -- the worst are obscure and forgettable. Weirdly, very often the WORST films have the BEST taglines if you read the list I've linked to above.

The three taglines I hear the most from screenwriters:

What would you do?

Every age/time/place/city/story/etc needs a hero/ine


One night. Three/Four/Five lives. [However many] problems/ stories.

As you can see, not one of these relies on pun, clever wording or anything else *of immediate interest* and are incredibly vague, so have little chance of "hooking" a reader. Of the three, the second is definitely the best, but lacks the ability to grab my attention simply because I've seen it SO MANY TIMES before.


In contrast, Loglines are a basic DESCRIPTION OF THE PLOT of your script. This is your chance to SELL THE STORY of your script, so you want it to be dynamic as possible: you want to GRAB the reader and make them WANT to read your script.

The more HIGH CONCEPT your script is, the simpler (and more concise) your logline should be. For example, the logline for Alien Vs Predator might be:

The two mighty creatures slug it out underground using humans as bait.

Or Independence Day:

Only two men can save the world when Aliens attack and attempt to loot and destroy Earth on July 4th.

Immediately we KNOW what kinds of movies these are - there will be explosions, fighting, monsters, maybe a little gore. Right on! We can do similar with just about any other GENRE script -- if it can adhere to convention, has some kind of "pre-sold" concept attached -- ie. aliens, serial killers, a love story, a fight to the death, vampires, etc - then we can slot it into high concept territory.

LOW CONCEPT scripts are a more "complicated sell" as they are a little more difficult to describe, so require lots of attention to get right. Sometimes they have very original central concepts (which require lots of exposition); other times it's more DRAMA than GENRE territory - and the question of "how much is enough?" rears its head in terms of selling the story off the page.

I would argue lots of TV scripts fall under this category -- they are often more complicated/convoluted stories because they have up to six hours' of story to cover, rather than 1.5 hrs' worth. This is why I recommend my Bang2writers write TWO loglines on their pitch docs - one covering the series AS A WHOLE, the second covering the pilot that is enclosed with the series bible.

Writing loglines is hard -- which is why it should NEVER be approached lightly. Don't just dash one off and send it out -- get people's opinions of it first!!! Thanks to the internet, blogs, forums, etc it's never been easier to get someone's opinion on your logline... No one is going to balk at reading 25 - 40 words. So what are you waiting for?


Here is a handout (PDF) comparing loglines of famous films and describing whether they are GOOD, BAD, or simply *okay* - well worth printing out and putting on your wall!!!

Loglines has its own CATEGORY in the Bang2write Required Reading List! Check it out.


Batman said...

Here's both, you may decide which is which...

Jack Diamond is a private investigator so good, he doesn't have to leave his office to solve a case.

That is, until he meets the lovely Laura Von Holt, and is asked to solve her husband's murder.

What do fast cars, beautiful women, and screaming ninjas have in common?

Jared said...

Not many are blessed with the magical ability to write loglines as naturally brilliant as I do.

"One night three lives are changed forever when a shocking secret forces friends to confront a past where there’s no going back. What would YOU do?"

You can't be taught that kind of shit. It just flows.

God bless.

DJ Chamberlain said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John said...

I hate writing loglines. I find it SERIOUSLY hard. I always end up thinking I've got it and then going back to it and realising "no" so I go back and re-work it and then it's this endless one step forward and two steps back that goes on forever, rather like this sentence...

I know that you're supposed to have it all done and dusted before you open a shiny new Final Draft document but I usually end up coming up with one and then re-visiting it between drafts. Sometimes, the logline only becomes obvious in the writing. Or at least clearer. Which in turn helps the next draft.

Batman said...

I write by the seat of my pants :) The logline/tagline comes for me at the end as well.... Am I doing it wrong? No, I've won awards. It really depends on what type of writer you are, as Charles Deemer states at his site. Need to get back there, as I have a long overdue blog entry pending on my own site. That you can't get to from here....