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
“A female prison guard in the future, where prisoners are rehabilitated with virtual reality, discovers a conspiracy that puts her loyalty into question.”
Steven Fernandez: Firstly, the logline should more clearly imply what genre this film is meant to be. As that makes a real difference to how the reader will appreciate the conspiracy. For instance, an implied political-message film will cast the conspiracy in a thematic light that would be very different to a straight out thriller. Hinting the genre also makes important tonal differences. For example, a political film could get away with setting up threats against the prison officer that are more subtle than simply against her life.
“Hinting the genre also makes important tonal differences”
Secondly, the nature of the conspiracy could (and should) be better hinted at. For example, the prison officer may discover “a covert programme that singles out some inmates for advanced training” (or, more dramatically, “advanced combat training”). Thirdly, an adjective or two about the prison officer when introducing her would be nice to make her more individual. Need not be a lot here. Saying “true-believing”, or “rules-following”, or “curious” (or even “bored”) would do. In summary, making the genre clearer makes a big difference to how many levels of meaning the reader can/should read into the basic story. In addition, the reader should be teased better about the nature of the conspiracy.
Cameron: The ‘female cop’ is too generic off an image in the readers mind. As Steven mentioned, using an adjective to describe her mind-set will add life to the character. Next, the story world is established (prisoners in virtual reality) but the bit about discovering a conspiracy and question of loyalty is too vague for an action which will drive the entirety of Act 2.
“Using an adjective to describe her mind-set will add life to the character”
Having read the screenplay, a more appropriate logline might be: “A work-obsessed female prison guard in the future, where prisoners are rehabilitated with virtual reality, discovers one of her inmates may have been set-up and endangers her life to free him.”
“A preacher’s wife, grieving from the loss of her teenage son and struggling to hold her family together, forms an unlikely friendship with a young street hustler who helps her understand her lost son and survive alcoholic depression.”
Steven Fernandez: Firstly, a very clunky logline. Verbose and lacks focus on what the dramatic crux is supposed to be. (For instance, is the wife’s core struggle with the bottle or with her grief? With both is certainly possible, but that makes it hard to believe that a mere “street hustler” is going to successfully facilitate her ascension from her plight.) Secondly, the logline should hint that the so-called “hustler” is more than just a common street hood. That could be as simple as an extra adjective or two when introducing him, such as “well-travelled”, “observant”, or “worldly wise”. Thus adding more credibility to the character. As well as making the character much more interesting to the reader.
“What is the wife’s core struggle and what does she stand to lose?”
Thirdly, the dramatic crux has to be made clear – what is the wife’s core struggle and what does she stand to lose? Having a hustler save her social respectability, for instance, is nicely ironic but lacks the gravitas of saving her marriage, sanity, or life happiness. The logline, as it stands, is unclear about what the wife must wrestle with. In summary, this logline needs to be completely re-written and made sharper. There may well be interesting characters and situations in the script. But, if so, the logline fails to hint at them.
Nicholasandrewhalls: Introducing the character as a preacher’s wife muddies who the focus of the story is on; your protagonist doesn’t currently have an identity beyond being the wife of another character in the story.
Also, meeting the hustler seems like the event or inciting incident. Once she has met him/her … what is the clear outer goal that the majority of the story will focus on?