What is a logline? If I said it’s a one-sentence summary of your film, I would be correct but not entirely accurate because it’s much more than that.
A logline teases the emotional need of your protagonist while promising your antagonist’s adversarial forces will surely prevent that emotional need from being fulfilled. You are setting up David versus Goliath in every single logline whether you realize it or not.
The battle between David and Goliath is iconic to this day because we love to root for an underdog. It seems impossible for little David with his measly slingshot to defeat the beastly giant. But because of David’s mix of skill, bravery and faith, he ultimately emerges the victor.
Just like the Biblical story, inherent in every great logline are both internal conflict (faith in oneself) and external conflict (the physical battle). But a great logline also reveals genre, setting and usually a glimpse at how your protagonist just might overcome his dilemma. Let’s look at a few famous loglines:
A cowboy doll is profoundly threatened and jealous when a new spaceman figure supplants him as top toy in a boy’s room.
Obviously from Toy Story, the conflict in this logline is between the cowboy and the spaceman (David and Goliath, respectively). The cowboy, like David with his slingshot, uses old, inferior technology. The spaceman, like Goliath who relies on his superior size, relies on space-age technology. The cowboy represents the past and the spaceman is the future – this creates a deeper conflict where the past (like people as they get older) desperately wants to stay relevant.
Also, the cowboy isn’t just threatened and jealous, he’s “profoundly threatened and jealous” adding that internal conflict and upping the stakes even more. There’s humor in it too when you think about a doll having a sort of mid-life crisis.
Words like “doll” and “boy’s room” imply the genre is a kid’s movie and the setting is in a home. Revealing that the cowboy was once the top toy in the boy’s room hints that it is through their long-time emotional connection that the cowboy doll will get back on top because they have history – something the spaceman figure doesn’t have with the boy. Though simple, this is a great logline.
Let’s look at another:
The story of a forbidden and secretive relationship between two cowboys and their lives over the years.
This is from Brokeback Mountain. Forbidden love always implies conflict, but when it’s between two cowboys, known for being the most macho of men, the stakes are automatically raised. Here, the two cowboys are David and societal norms are Goliath (but the movie leaves it up to the audience to determine the ultimate victor). The phrase “forbidden and secretive relationship” imply the movie is a romance and the fact they are cowboys implies the setting will likely be on a ranch out west.
Here’s another one:
After Elle Woods, a fashionable sorority queen, is dumped by her boyfriend, she decides to follow him to law school.
This is from Legally Blonde. Elle is David and Harvard University is Goliath. The fact that Elle is a “sorority queen” means she excels in a competitive social environment and will likely rely heavily on her social skills to defeat her Goliath.
In this classic fish out of water story, the idea of an ultra-blonde sorority girl wrapped in hot pink designer clothes attending an Ivy League law school automatically creates a humorous picture implying the genre is comedy.
By now, you’re aware of how important conflict is, not only in scenes, but in the logline itself. Another thing to keep in mind is that in addition to the David vs. Goliath power struggle, a great logline creates a visual image. Let’s look at another:
At a top-secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.
From The Shape of Water, a “lonely janitor” having a relationship with an “amphibious creature” most likely conjured up all kinds of images, while implying the genre is romantic-fantasy. Setting it in the 1960s also conjures images of classic space-age technology and style.
Let’s look at the logline for Blockers.
Three parents try to stop their daughters from losing their virginity on prom night.
Just reading this, I start to see teen girls in fancy prom dresses, their zit-faced boyfriends giving them corsages, and parents desperate to do anything to keep hormonal boyfriends off their daughters after the dance. Words like “daughters” and “prom night” trigger lots of iconic images.
Armed with a super-suit with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, cat burglar Scott Lang must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, plan and pull off a heist that will save the world.
From Ant-Man, you probably began to visualize the “super-suit” and a man shrinking. These are fun images and help to intrigue the reader while also revealing the genre is action/fantasy.
If you are beginning to toy with your own movie idea, go ahead and see if you can put it into one sentence, including the David vs. Goliath-style power struggle while creating an exciting visual image. Feel free to share your logline in the comments section.