Logline it! – Black List – Week 21

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


“Set amidst the transformation of Times Square from New York’s seediest neighborhood to the commercialized Disneyland it is today, when a secret from his past is unearthed, a young man’s loyalties are divided between his neighborhood boss who raised him and the grizzled ex-cop who swore to protect him.”

Steven Fernandez: Firstly, far too many words have been spent describing the setting – both in time and place. Yet all this would-be information is far less interesting than the triad of characters who are given descriptions that are a little too brief.

Unless the writer is trying to secure funding from the New York film office, the relationship between these three characters is what really matters to this story. The setting is a definite second or third in importance.

“What is really missing in this logline is a clear basis for compelling conflict.”

The logline does not make it crystal clear why the “neighbourhood boss” and the ex-cop are necessarily in conflict. Yes, there is the vague suggestion that they may be opposed simply because they operate – or had operated – on opposite sides of the law. But, given that the cop has left the force and the boss may perhaps be no longer active, this is not, by itself, a compelling division. Particularly when both older men seem to be genuinely (and equally) concerned about the youthful lad. (Which raises the question of why aren’t they reluctant allies instead.)

At a minimum, the two father-figures need to be sharply contrasted if they are supposed to be serious rivals. For example, “a wily, Fagin-esque, mastermind” versus “an old school ‘by the book’ proud veteran”.

If, perchance, these two men are meant to be read/understood as reluctant rivals, then the logline should instead describe what compelling common enemy they are uniting against. For example, a ruthless Slovenian mob. Or even a stunning yet calculating temptress.

The young man’s unearthed secret is not, in itself, that interesting. At least not at logline level. So I do not advise the logline saying any more about it. (Mind you, the secret could well be full of consequences at script level. For example, if the young guy suddenly discovers he is a father.)

In summary, what is really missing in this logline is a clear basis for compelling conflict. Whether that conflict is between the two older men or between the both of them and a third (fourth) party.

Dpg:  It seems to me the 1st 19 words (“Set amidst….is today”) are extraneous for the purpose of a logline.

“I have no idea what the stakes are in this logline. I have no idea what the “dark secret ” threatens.”

The core of the story seems to be a dilemma that a young man faces because of some secret from his past. I’m a sucker for a good dramatic dilemma — if it’s a genuine dilemma and if the stakes are high enough. But I have no idea what the stakes are in this logline. I have no idea what the “dark secret ” threatens. The young man’s one and only chance to escape his seedy environment? His very life? Or…?

And it’s not clear who is his antagonist. The local crime boss? The ex-cop? Or…?


“While driving his regular interstate bus route, an emotionally fractured ex-convict finds himself acting as a father figure to a forsaken young boy from the Philadelphia ghetto, even though he knows that the boy is smuggling drugs.”

Steven Fernandez: Firstly, this logline is badly verbose and clunky. For example, you could simply introduce the older protagonist as “an emotionally fractured ex-con who drives buses” and the younger one as “a lost ghetto boy”.

More fundamentally, nothing redeeming about the boy is told or even hinted at by the logline. (For example, is he a singing or artistic prodigy?) This is a big problem at two levels. One, there is no plausible reason to motivate the ex-con bus driver to feel paternal towards the boy. And, two, there is no clear reason why the film’s audience will empathise with the boy. Just one of these problems is enough to raise doubts about this story in the mind of a potential producer or development exec. Both together make it too easy to dismiss this project.

“Nothing redeeming about the boy is told or even hinted at by the logline.”

There is certainly the basic ingredients of a touching story about mutual redemption here. Certainly each character has potentially interesting and exploratble flaws. But the logline fails to connect the two characters is a way that convinces the reader of the quality of the story. The script could well be great. But the logline is utterly C-grade.

Cameron: As Steven mentions, the logline can be cut down and still communicate the same information. E.g  “An emotionally fractured ex-convict bus driver…” Describing the ex-con as emotionally fractured works, as it hints at a redeeming quality which one might not generally have for a ex-con protagonist.

Although we don’t have a redeeming quality for the ghetto drug smuggling boy in the logline, ‘forsaken’ implies that this kid is probably in with the wrong crowd, misinformed or doesn’t have a choice. This in itself is enough to communicate the general idea of the mirrored relationship between the mentor figure (who has paid for his mistakes) and his student ( who can still be saved from that life.)

From a plot stand-point, the logline doesn’t really deliver a clear goal or a clear antagonistic force besides one another – The ex-con is trying to ‘protect’ the ghetto kid, but from what? A cartel? neighbourhood thugs..? etc

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.loglineit.com.

The Judges (click for details)


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