Writing loglines is an essential skill for screenwriters, from early development through to the pitch. In this section, we review the loglines and short synopses of the screenplays that made it into the Blacklist 2012. Learn from the feedback and perfect your own loglining skills.
by The Judges
THE HOOVERVILLE DEAD
“Set in St. Louis in the 1920s, washed up baseball player Will Cosgrove is a private eye with his older brother Ross. When Ross goes missing, Will stumbles upon a deep secret that the disease taking over the town is not quite what it seems and a mob boss turned Governor will do anything to keep the town’s secret from being revealed.”
Cameron: This logline suffers from information overload, and when you have to read something twice, three times even, that’s bad news. This is more like a brief synopsis than a logline. Information, such as “set in St. Louis and washed up baseball player” are redundant when the key aspects of the logline should be Will’s flaw in relation to his occupation as a private eye and how that effects his brother going missing and the forthcoming search for him.
Also, the wording of Will discovering the town is plagued with a disease and the stuff with the mob boss turned Governor make it feel like two different films. Better wording of what Ross has to do with the Governor and plague would better tie these stories together.
Steven Fernandez: One aside: I hope this is not yet ANOTHER zombie film! (I meet plenty of zombies in real life.)
Firstly, the word usage is inefficient here and the logline could do with some real sharpening. For example, a much more interesting opener would be: “A private eye’s brother is missing in a town ruled by a crime lord. A town that is crippled by a mysterious plague.” (Telling us about 1920′s St. Louis, as well as Will’s baseball past is all froth by comparison.)
“Will’s key flaw should have been described in terms that relate directly to his private eyeing… how does his weakness compromise how he is today?”
Will’s key flaw should have been described in terms that relate directly to his private eyeing, rather than his past. It’s okay that his failed baseball career is the root cause of his weakness, but at logline level, how does his weakness compromise how he is today? For example, he could be simply described as a “disillusioned private eye”, or cynical, or alcoholic, or whatever. With such a quick description, the baseball past could be left for the script to reveal rather than the logline.
On the plus side, the implication of causation between the mob boss and the disease is interesting and a little different. Mind you, the logline could have worded this linkage far more effectively. For example, “As Will tries to track down his brother, he discovers a secret about the plague that the crime lord will kill him for knowing.”
The combination of spreading disease and a criminal governor makes for a meaty plot well worthy of a feature. If only the logline was written better to sell this quality …
“A wrongly convicted inmate volunteers for a hibernation experiment in exchange for one day of parole every five years, which he uses to prove his innocence and search for his missing daughter across an increasingly futuristic landscape.”
Steven Fernandez: On the face of it – just going by the logline – this concept completely does not work.
Most critically, instead of a ticking clock, we have a time dilated one. The protagonist has only one day after every five days to prove his innocence and to try to find his daughter? Even leaving aside a host of logical problems here, this set up makes no dramatic sense within the confines of a single feature. This might (might) work as a TV series, but is too haphazard a plot to work as a feature.
A more feature-feasible set up would be either the daughter is on ice (perhaps slowly dying), or the wronged prisoner is subjected to bouts of accelerated aging (or even both).
“Even leaving aside a host of logical problems here, this set up makes no dramatic sense within the confines of a single feature.”
If the writer’s original intention was to tell some cryogenic time travel story, then having the daughter living in real time is problematic as a motivational device. She can hardly hold her breath waiting for him every five years!
The closest this concept could come to a feature-feasible story is for the daughter to be alive and available while the protagonist attempts to prove his innocence before she dies of old age and/or before the world he cyclically wakes up in becomes too alien for him. Mind you, even here the reward to the hero becomes small and diminishing over time. (If the daughter is missing, she might as well be dead, given the protagonist’s one-day constraint.)
This story fundamentally appears to be seriously wrongly conceived. It’s hard to believe a quality script underpins this.
Cameron: Key aspects of the logline: An empathetic protagonist (wrongly accused convict) a HUGE obstacle ( 24 hours to live free every 5 years) and HIGH STAKES goal (his daughter is missing).
The overall story presented is HIGH concept but it’s a high concept that draws attention to itself along with a huge flaw: His daughter isn’t really in any iminante danger. We, the audience, might be in the convicts POV and only see every five years, but the from the daughter’s POV, she’s simply living her life.
“The overall story presented is HIGH concept but it’s a high concept that draws attention to itself along with a huge flaw.”
The script may well possibly address this issue logically and in an interesting way, but the way it’s presented in the current logline, it simply highlights a massive story flaw.
So what is your verdict? Would you want to see these films? Why (not)? Did the judges get it right? How would you improve the synopses/loglines and what do you feel might improve the stories behind them?
To read the full reviews and those from casual visitors, go to www.logline.it.
The Judges (click for details)