Each year, The Black List is made of Hollywood executives’ favorite unproduced screenplays, complete with title and logline information. Back in 2013, I discovered these lists and also found out that some of the loglines could be instructive cases of how to improve a pitch. I ended up writing three blog posts with details on how I would improve 15 of the loglines from the 2012 edition of The Black List.
Well, it’s back again for 2015. Here are some instructive loglines from the 2014 edition of The Black List, with my notes on how each could be improved.
It’s important to note that most of the time when I recommend changes to a logline, I am guessing at story details the author has left out. Because I’m not working with the writer on these loglines, I often can’t create a final version. However, I can make the first round of suggestions that would then go back to the writer for further rewrites.
With that out of the way, let’s jump right in.
The Wall: A sniper and his spotter must kill and avoid being killed, separated from an enemy sniper by only a 16x6ft prayer wall.
I really think this one has plenty of potential. It’s a great concept that easy to understand while still containing enough interest to make you wonder where it could go. What I’d change is the ambiguity about the mission. Who must the sniper and the spotter kill? Is it the enemy sniper? Why is this a difficult mission? Get some of those additional details into the logline and it will be all the more compelling.
Situation Comedy: A young woman, feeling directionless, stumbles upon a mysterious courtyard where she is transported into a sitcom-like universe, becoming a major character on this “TV show.”
I’d love to see the logline edited to give the “young woman” a nice adjective that would negate the need for “feeling directionless.” It’s also not especially important how she gets to the alternate universe. I can rewrite the logline like this:
“A directionless woman is transported to a sitcom-like universe where she becomes a major character in the ‘TV show.'”
Even better would be if we were given some idea of what happens next after she gets to the sitcom world. If we move the bulk of the logline to a setup clause, we’d have something like this:
“After she accidentally becomes a major character in a sitcom-like universe, a directionless woman must…”
And the writer would have to fill in the rest.
Moonfall: The investigation of a murder on a moon colony.
I agree that investigating a murder on a moon colony is a cool idea, but this logline is missing three of the four essential logline elements. Those are these items:
- A protagonist
- The situation (which we have here)
- The protagonist’s goal
- An antagonist
Does this story have characters? As far as this logline is concerned, it doesn’t.
Huntsville: A girl tracks down the man responsible for her father’s death and avenges him.
What makes this story different from a host of other revenge stories? We need a clear idea of who the girl is with an adjective-noun pair (a quiet or timid girl could be interesting), and the same goes for the man who killed her father. But beyond that, you can’t just pitch with something this vanilla and expect audiences to come running.
Beef: The manager of a fast food chain in Muncie, Indiana gets in over his head with some bookies.
There are two things wrong with this logline. First, there are a couple of simple fixes we can make. Give the manager an adjective so we can start thinking of him as a character. Is he big-hearted? bumbling? evil? And then also take out Muncie, Indiana. It’s not important where the story takes place.
The second thing would require more details from the writer to fix. That’s because this logline is missing the “what happens next?” piece. A guy gets in trouble with bookies… and then what happens?
A Garden at the End of the World: In a post-apocalyptic world, a recluse, trying to recreate trees to produce new life, takes in a young girl who is on the run from some bad men, including her father.
I’m almost at a loss with this one. There are so many details that seem unrelated that the logline is utterly disjointed. This is most likely a case where the writer has so many “cool” details to fit into the pitch that he’s lost sight of the actually story. If I had the writer in the room, I would ask for a three-sentence summary version of the story. Usually when somebody writes a larger pitch, the “cool” elements get exhausted in the first sentence, forcing them to dig deeper for the throughline. With those additional details in hand, we could trim the fat and walk away with a streamlined, cohesive logline.
Shadow Run: A viral attack puts lives in danger, forcing a CIA agent to initiate a secret prisoner exchange of Russia’s most notorious spy for the American scientist who can create a cure.
Here’s a nearly perfect logline. It just needs some trimming in the first clause. If we reword the setup to be shorter, we can streamline and make it easier to pitch. I’ll also rework forcing to forces so that we use the active version of the word. Like this:
“A deadly viral attack forces a CIA agent to initiate a secret prisoner exchange of Russia’s most notorious spy for the American scientist who can create a cure.”
There you have it! Seven Hollywood loglines and how to improve them. I hope this has helped you with your own loglines. If you want more, you can wait until the next post where I’ll break down eight more. You might also be interested in my book Finding the Core of Your Story, which is about as complete a guide to loglines as you can find, if I do say so myself. (And did I mention that this week, the Kindle version is half price?)