There are a few sections in this article that only apply to writers who have works on our site.
Every week, we have an average of 1000 synopses, treatments or scripts viewed by producers and representatives (and many times more than that in terms of loglines). Then there are also the industry people who directly contact the writer after viewing the logline only. 200 of the 1000 viewings are script viewings.
Based upon the above, I am going to make a few assumptions and write them in the first person, for my ease and in an effort to not offend.
If after 5-7 weeks on the site, my synopsis has not been viewed, or has been viewed only a few times, it must mean that my logline needs some work. I would immediately change the logline I have on the site. If my synopsis is viewed 10 times and no one has contacted me or viewed my script, my synopsis must need some more work. Our average shows that every time 6 synopses are viewed, at least one script is also viewed. (Registered writers, see Get More Exposure.)
Most writers resent the idea that in order to have someone read their script, they have to take 90-120 pages (and who knows how many hours in writing) and distill it down to one 450+/- word synopsis, let alone a logline. 'If they want to know what the story is about, they should just read the script!' right?
Well, unfortunately, that's just not the way it works. Loglines and synopses are an accepted means by which writers can entice the producer to read their script. In fact, the use of loglines is becoming more and more common, much to the dismay of most writers. Unless you personally know Steven Spielberg, there is no getting around writing a good logline and synopsis.
Some writers really know how to write a great synopsis, but the logline leaves something to be desired, so no one ever reads the synopsis. Other writers are able to write incredible loglines but the synopsis is poorly written, so no one goes beyond that to read the script. Other times industry people just aren't in the market for a certain type of script (we are in a volatile and capricious industry).
You, as a writer, have studied your craft (read countless books, gone to school and attended numerous seminars) and made your script as good as you can make it. In most cases, you have had your writing peers read the script or gotten analysis on it or in some way have had other members in the industry side check your script, to ensure it is as good as possible. All of this is recommended before marketing your script.
The synopsis and logline are the keys that open the door to getting your script read. The same amount of care that a writer takes in writing a script should also be taken in writing the logline and synopsis.
The following gives you a general idea of what your logline should achieve:
An audience/studio/producer should be able get the full concept of the script from basically one to three sentences. They will know immediately what the whole movie is about. NEVER describe details of your script in the logline. That is what the synopsis and/or treatment is for.
How does one write a good logline? Look at what the pros write. Look on video covers, look in TV guide (many are bad here), look at billboard ads for movies, MOST of all, look at the plot outlines for movies on IMDb.com! IMDb.com is a wonderful resource for examples of loglines. (Note: A lot of their plot summaries, in my opinion, are poor examples of synopses and should not be used as examples for learning how to write a synopsis.) You can make up a very short tagline (see IMBD.com), followed by your logline. Then the industry member can also go to your synopsis, after you have inspired him/her.
Writing a Synopsis and Logline
A properly written logline is important because most producers do not use their own money to finance a film. They read your logline. If it sounds like it is something they can then pitch to their money guys and it is the type of script their money guys are interested in, they then take the next step with regards to your script.
Synopses and loglines are actually very easy to write, once you understand the process. This is the same for pitching a script over the phone or in person. What a writer needs to do is break down the story to its most simple basic elements. This is hard for a writer because of all of the detail a writer has to go through in writing the script. After all, every scene is important or it wouldn't be in the script. Writers have a tendency to think that these all-important details must not only be in the synopsis, but also the logline. This is definitely incorrect in the case of loglines and is almost always incorrect for the synopsis as well.
Instead of trying to crunch an entire script down to a synopsis or logline, try to do it from the reverse. Every script can be described in one to two words and still give a person a basic understanding of the story. This is done all day long in the industry. The most basic term used for this one-word description is genre (Romantic Comedy, Comedy, Drama, Thriller, etc. [no details, just one word]).
With the logline you are just expanding it a little bit more, without details. Think of the basic idea behind the story. Example: Drama; 'A farmer struggles to keep his family together during the depression.' Drama; 'A former American president defects to Russia.' Sci-Fi; 'The assassination of both leaders turns an interplanetary civil war on its ear.' There are lots and lots of examples of this for existing movies on IMDb.com.
Now with the genre and logline taken care of, expand it just a bit further (one page) and you have a synopsis.
A logline is NOT a mini-synopsis. A synopsis and logline are two totally different things. Loglines should not contain details of the script. Writers often mistakenly shorten their synopsis and make that the logline. The idea is to get the producers to read the logline and want to know more - make them want to look at your synopsis where you are able to do justice for your script. DON'T use a mini-synopsis as the logline.
If producers are unable to explain the concept of your movie in just a few short words, that script is dead in the water.
Common sense warning: be sure to correct your logline for typos and grammatical errors. This can be seen as an indication that your synopsis and script will also contain errors, turning producers off from looking further into your placement.
A logline is supposed to be short and sweet. A quick glimpse of what the script is about. NO DETAILS.
Here are a few sample log lines from well-known features:
Independence Day - Aliens try to invade earth on Independence Day.
Liar, Liar - An attorney, because of a birthday wish, can't tell any lies for 24 hours.
Dead Calm - A married couple, trying to recover from the death of their only child, are terrorized at sea by a handsome maniac.
The Hunt for Red October - A Soviet submarine captain uses Russia's ultimate underwater weapon as a means to defect to the west.
The Last Boy Scout - A private detective must team up with an ex-football star to catch the killer of a topless dancer.
Our best advice for loglines: write 10 - 12 loglines and read them to everyone you know (friends, family, strangers on the street). Choose the one that makes most people want to see the movie. Some scripts have a target audience. Showing your logline or synopsis for a teen script to a few senior citizens who only watch movies from the 50's and 60's is foolish. Be sure your logline fits your target audience. You should have several written and see which ones work best.
Copyright by Jerrol LeBaron, 2002
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