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
“An ensemble crime story set in Detroit about an ex-con who goes back for one last heist in order to settle his family’s debt.”
Steven Fernandez: As Karel would say, ensemble stories are tricky beasts that are best left till when you are quite expert in your screenwriting craft. But, even leaving that aside, this concept lacks any great appeal as it is stated.
Most importantly, the idea of an ex-con coming back into crime – even if “for one last time” – smacks of compulsion or giving into old bad habits, rather than, say, someone making a character-challenging sacrifice for some noble reason. (I actually think a better set up is for the ex-con to make efforts to prevent a son or cousin from falling into criminal life, with the motif of atonement that that could entail.)
“There are many reasons why his family could be in debt, and not all of those reasons would create EMPATHY for the character.”
While the logline hints at a possibly noble motivation (clearing family debt), it fails to tease much sympathy from the reader for the ex-con. Put it this way: There are many reasons why his family could be in debt, and not all of those reasons would create empathy for the character. It makes a big difference, for example, if the debt has arisen due to beer, gambling and smoking versus the family’s attempt to give a chronically ill daughter or neice an experimental medical treatment. By leaving the cause of the debt indeterminate, the reader is left ambivalent and also left making his or her own guesses about the quality of the ex-con’s motivation. (Not a smart move: A logline should close off the opportunities for a reader to make a negative guess about what is not made clear.)
So, at a minimum, we need to be told a little more (somehow) of why the ex-con is worthy of our empathy and why this heist is not just going to be just another ‘job’ for him – like all the others he has done in the past. (For example, is he starting to suffer Parkinson’s disease? If so, suddenly it’s clear that this whole enterprise is significantly riskier for him.)
Karel Segers: Steven has done the in-depth analysis. Here are my key issues:
1) “Ensemble crime story” is all about genre; it doesn’t tell us anything about the story.
2) “One last heist” has been done so many times I doubt there will be an audience for this.
3) I’m not getting what is unique about this story. As such, the logline doesn’t do a very good job.
“Under the director of a prestigious but borderline abusive instructor, a young college student begins to lose his humanity in his quest to become the core drummer of the top jazz orchestra in the country.”
Steven Fernandez: Firstly, the wording of this logline is teeth-achingly clunky.
Secondly, it’s a hugely improbable stretch to believe that one’s humanity could be lost just by being an instrument player for any orchestra. (In “Black Swan” the sheer physical demands of being a premier ballerina made loss of humanity a credible possibility. But not here.)
“It’s a hugely improbable stretch to believe that one’s humanity could be lost just by being an instrument player.”
Fundamentally, the dynamic of ‘bad ass’ instructor and young trainee can certainly work. But not in this setting. A better setting would be either military training or medical school. Or, perhaps, some kind of cutting edge and risky scientific research.
Cameron: From the logline we get a protagonist with a clear goal of becoming the core drummer of a top jazz orchestra and a mentor character who seems to double as the antagonist (if ‘abusive’ indicates this) in the form of the protagonist’s instructor.
“Humanity could be swapped with the characters flaw and how it is affecting his ability to achieve his goal.”
As Steven mentioned, the ‘lose of humanity’ aspect doesn’t quite fit. Maybe ‘humanity’ could be swapped with the characters flaw and how it is affecting his ability to achieve his goal seeing as though the story seems to focus on an inner journey from the logline.
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)