Show Me the Log Line
When I meet filmmakers for the first time, the inevitable question we have for each other is “what are you working on?” I’m often disappointed with the answers I get—not because I don’t like the project, but because I’m lost in the presentation.
People will say “I’m no good at log lines” and then launch into a lengthy scene-by-scene description of the story. Worse, some folks will offer the inspiration for the film in lofty, intellectual terms. Or in very personal, emotional terms. Which may be perfectly valid, but don’t serve to capture my interest.
In a world full of ideas, pitches and projects, it’s a challenge to get ANY attention for your film. A moody tracking shot or a round of witty dialogue may work on screen, but in casual conversation, you need a few short, clear and compelling sentences. In other words, you need a log line.
My ideal log line covers three things: WHO is the story about? WHAT does that character want? And WHY should we care? Because if I can grasp that much, then I’ll be hooked. And THEN you can tell me more!
A log line is not a tagline (most famously from Alien: “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream.”). Taglines are marketing devices that work in the context of a trailer or poster. A log line IS the context, a brief summary of the plot without spoilers but enough teasers to intrigue your potential audience.
As a producer, it’s my job to make sure movies find their audience. So I find myself tweaking and developing log lines with writers and directors. They may have a vision that will play beautifully with a captive audience in a theater. But if we want to fill that theater, we need to break it down in terms that are irresistible.
My challenge to filmmakers is this: If you believe that you are a storyteller at heart, practice telling your story at every opportunity, in the form of a log line. How many people will want to see and hear more? The better that you can summarize your film, the better it will be when you finally produce it.