A Description of what makes a good LOGLINE
(by Screenwriting Guru – Alby James of SEDIBA)
A log line is a brief description of your story in one, two or three sentences (maximum of 100 words). You will be most familiar with them from TV guides as most programmes, especially dramas and films, will have brief pitches about them to attract viewers. They are also useful for writers to attract interest from producers, directors, actors and agents in reading the longer form of your story, whether this be a treatment or script. If your log line is compelling, they are more likely to be interested.
A log line is also what helps the writer determine whether his story is structurally sound. For example:
"A cool young man signs up for the elite Naval Aviation Officer Candidate School, thinking that passing will be a piece of cake. In truth, his confidence is all bravado because he is a loner and a loser whose mother died when he was young and whose father is a drunk and philanderer. His fears of being a failure like his father, though, unexpectedly come to haunt him when drill Sgt. Foley, whose sole purpose is to find the weakness in his hopeful trainees and work away at them until only the best of the trainees remain, finds his weakness." (An Officer and a Gentleman)
Please note, that not only does the aforementioned log line tell us what the story is about, it tells us what BOTH stories are about. What I mean is that all well-written stories consist of two stories – the "objective story" and "subjective story." The objective story is the backdrop against which the hero's story (the "subjective" story) takes place. In An Officer and a Gentleman the objective story is about whether Richard Gere’s character, Zack, will complete his training successfully and enter the Navy Flight School. The subjective story is about whether Zack can overcome his feeling that dice have fallen badly for him and all his ambitions are doomed. It is a story, then, about ambition. Both the main plot and the main sub-plot love story test Zack again and again to show that he means what he says and he really wants what he says he wants. Actions speak louder than words and what we see is the tagline for the film proven: "Life gave him nothing but the will to win." That is the controlling idea of the film and the audience gets an emotional experience of this and that is why it is satisfying.
In Rocky, the objective story is the story of Rocky training for and then fighting for the world heavyweight championship of the world against the opposition of the current Champ, Apollo Creed. The subjective storyline is the hero's story, the story of Rocky trying to overcome his image of being a loser. The subjective story, then, is the story of the hero becoming a better person, not a better boxer or a better cop, or a better politician. The logline, then, is "A struggling boxer who works part-time in a meat factory for extra cash is given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when he is chosen to be the opponent for an exhibition match with the heavyweight champion. He has to throw off his idea of being a loser if he is to seize this chance and change his life forever."
In Lethal Weapon, the objective storyline is whether or not Mel Gibson's character can take down Gary Busy's bad-guy character. The subjective storyline is whether Gibson's character can find a reason to go on living. The logline, then, is, "Roger Murtaugh, celebrating his 50th birthday, is an L.A. cop and a family man with a beautiful wife and daughter who just wants to reach retirement in one piece. Martin Riggs, his new partner, is 30s, cool and battling severe depression after losing his wife in an auto accident. One of them has everything to live for, the other has nothing to live for – a combustious mixture that brings crisis to family and the criminals."
In ET, the objective story is about whether the boy gets the alien back to his ship. The subjective storyline is the hero's story, the story of the meek little boy finding the courage, conviction and self-worth he needs to be able to pull off the difficult and dangerous goal of saving ET, and of saving his own life in terms of being able to live it fully rather than always feeling alienated himself. A log line, then, could be "A meek and alienated little boy finds a stranded extra-terrestrial and has to find the courage to defy the authorities and help the alien return to its home planet." (ET.)
In Leaving Las Vegas, the objective storyline is whether Nicholas Cage's character will drink himself to death. The subjective storyline is whether Cage's character will find a reason to go on living – essentially the same as the Lethal Weapon subjective storyline, but the huge difference in the hero's characters determines the huge difference in the two movies.
The crucial thing to recognise now is that only when Rocky (or any other hero) overcomes his character flaw, only when he triumphs on the subjective level, is he able to triumph on the objective level. He has to overcome his self-definition as a loser in order to apply himself sufficiently to win on the objective level, going the distance against the champ.
So let me repeat, a log line consists of the following: a hero with a flaw that keeps him/her from achieving a worthwhile goal, is forced to respond to a life-changing event instigated by an opponent, and in the process of responding to that life-changing event, the hero is forced to overcome his/her flaw, and only then is s/he ready to do one-on-one battle with the opponent to realize his/her goal.
The hero's flaw has to be something that prevents the hero from responding successfully to the life-changing event. Conversely, the life-changing event has to force the hero to choose between his/her flaw and the opportunity, challenge or threat presented by the life-changing event.
Examples of the hero's flaw from hit movies
Again, examples: Rocky Balboa is a loser who refuses to try to do better for himself, for fear of putting himself in a position that a loser like him can't handle. The life-changing event, that of fighting for the world championship, is of such magnitude that even the "loser" Rocky can't refuse it. BUT, Rocky cannot successfully respond to the opportunity unless he overcomes his image of himself as a loser. It is the overcoming of that flaw that allows him to respond to the life-changing event by going the distance in the ring in the third act, one-on-one with the opponent. So, the life-changing event forces him to choose between being a loser and the opportunity of fighting for the world championship.
Another example: In Hook, the adult Peter Pan has forgotten who he is, which keeps him tied to the material world of overwork and neglect of his family. The life-changing event is that Captain Hook kidnaps Peter's children. The only way that Peter can respond successfully to the life-changing event – the opportunity to rescue his children from Captain Hook – is to remember who he is and rediscover the imagination, faith and child-like joy in himself. He has to choose between his flaw, which is a type of self-induced amnesia, and the opportunity to rescue his children.