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Screenplay Loglines

When you try to break in as a screenwriter, you quickly discover that nobody wants to read your script.

You also learn that, if they do read your script, your script sucks.

So it’s a multi-year process to improve your writing to the point where it’s not just professional (very hard), but worthy of being produced (almost impossible).

And then you have the same problem…that nobody will read your script.

There is presently, today (10/13/21), something on Twitter called #ScreenPit which lets writers pitch their loglines to prospective producers and managers.

Unfortunately, while I hope it helps some people, it seems to be akin to attending an NFL tryout and there’s no structure whatsoever, it’s just 4,000 people running around on a field throwing footballs. How this helps anybody…we’ll have to see.

Sadly: almost all amateur screenplays suck, and there are probably 10K to 20K people writing them.

I got that figure from the major screenplay contests, which have announced entrants around the 12K or 14K mark. Yikes!

My own stuff is solid enough that I can pretty consistently make the quarter-finalist and semi-finalist rounds. Which is to say, out of 14K submissions, I can be in the top, say, 250 to 500 scripts—which is, to say, the top 1 to 3%.

But winning one or placing as one of the top handful of finalists—the only things that the managers pay attention to—is probably a matter of luck and taste, and thus of volume. I don’t want to be a “contest warrior” because of the time and cost.

So if you’re in the top 300-500 people, at any time, trying to break in, with professional seeming stuff, how do you get read by somebody who actually matters?

That’s where the logline is key. The logline is the one or two sentence summary of the script that the professional can use to figure out what the script is about and whether it’s worth reading.

For example, I wrote a sci-fi script called Spare Parts, this is the logline:

A bionically enhanced police A.I. expert, struggling to accept her motherhood to an adopted baby, must capture an android assassin whose robot child, if constructed, would destroy the world.

It’s a good script, and I thought that was a pretty good logline—suggesting the human drama and conflict—but people weren’t interested in it. Probably because it seems somewhat derivative of a bunch of other A.I. scripts, at a time when the market is flooded with them, and it also seems hugely expensive (true).

Professionals are primarily just looking to make money. Producers want something cheap to produce (if they had access to bigger budgets, they wouldn’t be looking at amateur loglines), and managers want something they can sell to studios.

To that end, writers who obsess over their loglines are missing the point. It’s not about the logline construction, per se, getting each and every word and comma perfect (though that is important). It is about the concept therein.

Concept is king. It is currency. For example, A Quiet Place is genius high concept:

In a decimated near-future a lone family must try to survive ferocious alien creatures who hunt using acute hearing.

It’s like, SOLD! You picture the movie. You can feel the concept. It immediately calls to mind the perils and emotions of the scenario.

My robots-having-children logline, not so much.

The logline is especially important because it’s pretty much the only way for a professional to screen out the 13,500 garbage scripts from the 500 that might be semi-competently written.

But even of those 500 decent ones—and I’ve read a bunch—most are badly in need of major development work.

So managers would rather get a great concept and try to fix the execution, than find something brilliantly executed off of a soft concept that probably wouldn’t sell.

As hard as I try to come up with awesome concepts, it’s just very difficult. If it were easy, everybody would do it.

You can see my scripts and loglines, for all the good that will do, at a website called Coverfly that lets writers host their work for free, while nudging them to spend a small fortune on contest submissions and other services.

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