Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Refusing to be defeated by a logline

In the world of Hollywood scriptwriting (or even writing screenplays for documentaries), a logline is written to "sell the qeury letter."

When one completes a spec (speculation, not asked to write) script, one sends a query letter to appropriate producers and/or agents to tantelize them to request to read the screenplay.  The query letter cannot be more than one page and includes a logline, very brief description of the characters and plot, as well as very brief bio information. Loglines are typically about 28 words.

If the query letter, with the logline, are written well enough, the scriptwriter hopefully will have one or more requests for the screenplay.  Once read by a Hollywood "reader," a form is typically completed that either recommends the script move on up the pipeline for others to read or recommends a rejection letter or email be sent to the submitting scriptwriter.

It is said that the logline makes or breaks the potential sale and the purpose of selecting a script to buy and movie to produce is "high concept" or "something that will put butts in the theater seats on a Saturday night."

I've written my first screenplay, Texas Trilogy: The Legacy, and that was hard enough.  For most of us, it always is challenging when we attempt to do something we've never before done.  I'm thrilled I finished the script, especially since it usually takes about three months to write one and I completed mine in two months.

Ice cream and a small piece of dark chocolate were my reward for finishing the project.  At my age, I always reward myself with food, kind of like giving treets to a dog when it behaves well!

I'm anxious to move on to the next script.  However, there is business to complete before doing so!

Writing the logline is causing me to want to tear out my hair.  The pressure is on.  If my logline isn't good enough, nobody will want to read the script and I think it is a very good story, with strong characters (espcieally El Limpiador, The Cleaner), interesting localities (in Dallas, of course), and lots of conflict.

To better aquaint the reader of this blog posting with quality loglines, which are those written by professional screenplay writers who have experience, let's look at five samples.

"Seabiscuit" - 29 words - The extraordinary story of a thoroughbred racehorse - from his humble beginnings as an under-fed workhorse to his unlikely rise and triumphant victory over the Triple Crown winner, War Admiral.

"Pirages of the Caribbean" - 39 words  - A 17th Century tale of adventure on the Caribbean Sea where the roguish yet charming Captain Jack Sparrow joins forces with a young blacksmith in a gallant attempt to rescue the Governor of England's daughter and reclaim his ship.

"Spy Kids" - 43 words - After segueing from a life of espionage to raising a family, Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez are called back into action. But when they are kidnapped by their evil nemesis, there are only two people in the world who can rescue them... their kids!

"My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding" - 47 words - Toula's family has exactly three traditional values - "Marry a Greek boy, have Greek babies, and feed everyone." When she falls in love with a sweet, but WASPy guy, Toula struggles to get her family to accept her fiancée, while she comes to terms with her own heritage.

"Titanic" - 19 words - A young man and woman from different social classes fall in love aboard an ill-fated voyage at sea.

These samples range from 19 words to 47 words.  My understanding is a new writer submitting a first screenplay should keep the words to about 28.  This information comes from the many books I've read on screenwriting, as well as the many articles on the Internet I've downloaded and reviewed.

Also, notice some of the samples include names of characters, but the one for Titanic doesn't.

Where am I today on the logline for my script? Here it is:

An epic tale of the struggle of a good-hearted daughter, overpowered by guilt, to keep the family’s drug trafficking empire from the clutches of the Mexican cartel who murdered her kingpin father.  33 words, which is five more than 28.

Since this is a trilogy, there are two more screenplays to write that feature some of the same characters (along the timeline, various people are murdered - drug trafficking is a very dangerous business, which is the theme of and reason for the trilogy).

At this point, since I must complete the synopsis of about 450 words (some producers and/or agents require that with the query letter), I may have to go with the logline I've written.  I don't feel totally satisfied with it, but them I'm well aware of the many interesting characters in the script, as well as all the action.  It is so hard for me to convert a 120-page screenplay into about 30 words.  It is difficult enough to whittle it down to 450 words.

The relevant question is, IF you are someone who likes crime adventure movies, "Does my logline make you want to read the synopsis or the 120-page screenplay?" If not, my logline needs more work.

I want to get these query letters out this week.  Therefore, the logline must be finished today and I'll give myself through Thursday to finish the 450-word synopsis. 

And that means rewards of ice cream and dark chocolate both today and tomorrow.  Arf, arf! 

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