Log On

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Besides being irresistible bad-pun material, loglines are a subject close to my heart. Boiling down an entire script to one sentence is an art in and of itself. As a former (thank God) agency creative director/copywriter, you think I’d be half decent at it. Or maybe it’s why I’m not. In either case, I’m going to use this post to workshop the logline for my current project:

A heartbroken cameraman gets a job on a dating travel show whose host goes rogue hunting down a lost love.

Meh, right? Or maybe it’s meh-raculous!? Let’s find out…

When [INCITING INCIDENT OCCURS], a [SPECIFIC PROTAGONIST] must [OBJECTIVE], or else [STAKES].

This is a typical logline boilerplate. Of course, there are a lot of resources on penning effective log lines. However, I feel like this one covers the bases, so I’ll use its ten steps as a guide:

1/ A logline must have a protagonist, their goal and an antagonist

Protagonist: Cameraman
Antagonist: Travel show host
Goal: Hunting down a lost love

The Goal is the sticking point here, since in my case, it actually belongs to the Antagonist. I did this because my story is an adaptation (more about that in a second). But I think this construction might intrinsically undermine the logline. Because even if the action is driven by the Antagonist, the logline should be about the Protagonist’s journey. Point taken.

2/ Don’t use a character name
Check. (At least I got one right!)

3/ Use an adjective to give depth to the character

A heartbroken cameraman

To be honest, I’ve had ongoing issues with this since his heartbreak is only alluded to in the actual story. Also, this adjective doesn’t really help paint the picture I want of the Protagonist.

4/ Quickly and clearly present the protagonist’s main goal

Hunting down a lost love

This is slightly tricky as the Protagonist’s motivation is never fully revealed in the narrative. Robert McKee’s illuminating Story goes to great lengths to spell out the difference between Task and Goal. For example, Luke Skywalker’s Task might be to take down the Empire, but his Goal is to learn who he is.

The clear stated goal in my logline is to find a lost love. That belongs to the Antagonist, as noted above. As a result, I’m essentially leaving the reader to make the connection between the Protagonist being heartbroken and working on a travel dating show. I really shouldn’t do that.

5/ Describe the antagonist

a dating travel show whose host goes rogue

I’m sure at one time “rogue” had some menace to it. But in this instance I feel like it makes the Antagonist seem kinda lovable. I believe a good foe should be seemingly impossible to defeat. I’m not saying the adversary can’t be complex or flawed. However if the opposing force is a pushover, there is no tension pulling the story further. Finally, he needs to stand in the way of the Protaganist’s Goal. So, yes, I’ll definitely revisit this.

6/ Make sure the protagonist is proactive

gets a job on a dating travel show

Maybe I get half points here? Our Protagonist is taking a step. However, it leaves a lot to be explained. Why is this proactive? What does he hope to accomplish? How is the host standing in his way? If working on a reality show was a recognized step in mending a broken heart, this could stand. But without context, it serves more to set up the universe than establish the character’s purpose.

7/ Include escalating stakes or a ticking time-bomb

host goes rogue

There’s that word again. Mind you, it’s the only one that speaks to events not unfolding as they should. There’s a reason the Antagonist is veering off the rails and the repercussions face a huge threat to the Protagonist. Maybe I should mention that?

8/ Set up

MOBY DICK

When I tell people United Nations is a Moby Dick adaptation, ears perk up. Yet, I didn’t want to risk reducing my film to a gimmick (which it isn’t). But this exercise has made me realize that revealing the conceptual anchor could significantly strengthen the logline.

Wrath of Khan was loosely based on Moby Dick

Wrath of Khan was loosely based on Moby Dick

In my story the cameraman is Melville’s unreliable narrator, Ishmael. The host of the show is the megalomaniacal Captain Ahab whose “white whale” is the lost love. Maybe leveraging the mental real estate of the classic epic would allow me to bolster the set-up?

9/ About the ending

“What a twist!”

My film doesn’t have a twist ending per se. But a larger world is revealed at the very end. No, I didn’t allude to that in the logline, and I won’t.

10/ Don’t tell the story, sell the story

Moby Dick is reimagined in the world of reality TV when a reluctant cameraman is thrust into the spotlight and must face the show’s megalomaniacal producer before his obsession destroys them all.  

Sold? You tell me…

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