Every year, a list called The Black List is made of Hollywood executives’ favorite, unproduced screenplays from the past year. The 2012 list is out and I’m scrolling through it. Some of these loglines could use some help, so I’m going to break down some of the entries to help you see what would make a great logline.
Before I jump into this, I want to make something clear. I can’t do the back-and-forth with the writers that I would normally do when helping someone with a logline. Instead, I’m just going to be giving a brief analysis of what needs to change to make each logline a good one.
With that out of the way, here are five instructive loglines from The Black List.
Transcendence: An epic love story set in a time where a dying scientist is able to upload his consciousness into the internet and, facing its global implications, must fight against the forces who are actively working against the existence of a singularity.
This one is suffering from too much information. It’s also way too complicated. As a start toward fixing it, I would do the following:
- First, I would remove “An epic love story set in a time…” This can be gathered without spelling it out if the logline were written correctly.
- Then, I’d make it more active. Instead of being able to upload his consciousness, the scientist does upload his consciousness.
- I would also rephrase the ending to make it less complex, and, as I mentioned above, get something in here about the love story.
There’s enough information in this logline for me to rewrite it. I don’t know enough about the love story to cover that, so I’ve left it out entirely for my version.
“When a dying scientist uploads his consciousness into the internet, he must face the global implications and fight against a group that wishes to destroy singularity.”
Almanac: A group of high school kids discover how to time travel, but fail to recognize the potential consequences.
Here’s a classic example of a logline that doesn’t have enough information. This could be easily improved simply by stating the story’s biggest consequence of traveling through time. If I were helping a writer with this logline, I would ask questions until we found that consequence, but since I don’t have that luxury, we’ll have to leave this one be.
Hibernation: A wrongly convicted inmate volunteers for a hibernation experiment in exchange for one day of parole every five years, which he uses to prove his innocence and search for his missing daughter across an increasingly futuristic landscape.
This one is really simple: Just lose the entire second half. It’s high-concept enough that anybody will get the idea without being told what the man plans to do with his single day of freedom. Now all you have is this:
“A wrongly convicted inmate volunteers for a hibernation experiment in exchange for one day of parole every five years.”
Simple, yet so tantalizing.
Our Name Is Adam: An astronaut travels back in time to enlist the help of his younger self.
Here’s another logline that’s missing key information. What does this astronaut need help with? As it is now, this feel generic and bland. Once again, I can’t pursue a solution with the writer, so it’ll have to stay as it is.
The Portland Condition: Set against the backdrop of rainy Portland, Oregon, a young man finds himself falling in love for the first time – only to receive a letter from his future self, warning him of impending heartbreak.
I’ve chosen this one for a couple of reasons. First, it has too much information. The entire setup clause telling us where it takes place is irrelevant to the story at hand. This story can happen anywhere, and the location is in the title to boot. Chopping that out and tweaking some of the wording, this one can be rewritten like so:
“When a young man finds himself falling in love for the first time, he receives a letter from his future self to warn him of impending heartbreak.”
The second reason I chose this logline is because it doesn’t have enough information. Yes, that’s right! And no, that’s not a contradictory statement.
This one is missing its chance to tickle our imaginations with a great adjective for the young man. Young is such a generic word. It would be far better to label him with a vivid adjective that helps us understand what he’ll do in response to this letter. Impulsive could suggest that he’ll try to dump his girlfriend immediately. Idealistic might indicate that he’ll fight extra hard to keep her. Once more, I can’t verify with the writer that I’m using the correct adjective, so I won’t muddy the waters with a potentially faulty rewrite.
Was this logline breakdown post helpful to you? Let me know in the comments! There are many, many more loglines on The Black List that I could break down, and if you’ve found this useful, I’ll do some more in a future blog post.