Friday, December 3, 2010

Log Line Hell and Purgatory .. Rarely Heaven

Good log lines require a lot of work and rewriting. Start with a fresh eraser. When you get them right thy're a treat. Reading one is like watching a whole movie in 5 seconds -- provided your imagination is up and running. In the middle of this post I'll give you my latest formula for a good log line, and some great examples I just came across. 

But first, I must lament the dearth of good examples. Last night I was perusing InkTip's December 2010 magazine of log lines and associated pitches -- seemingly hundreds of them. Just reading a hundred log lines in a few hours in stimulating, if not instructive. But the lesson is usually, and sadly, what NOT to do. Some are bazaar. Take Example No. 1
THE THIRD SECRET (Harold Zapata) Imagine Hell in all its fury unleashed on Earth. A young professor of paranormal theistic anomalies suffering a crisis of faith becomes involved in the quest to uncover and stem the last of three mythic secrets hidden deep inside the Vatican Riserva, after the assistant to the Pope is murdered through stigmata by a ghoul-like-child.
What we have here is unimaginable. Now the writer may think "unimaginable" is a good thing. But if a producer can't imagine it visually in his head, it might as well not have been written. Here we have more. First, I can't imagine Hell. Indeed I don't want to. I'd like to avoid all visions of it. And frankly I oftentimes think that Hell is the latest headline of something that's happening on Earth. The latest, for me, was the story of a mother and father who are asking the public via their Facebook page to vote as to whether or not to abort their child. That's all the Hell I want to imagine for today, thank you.

But the big problem with Example No. 1 is that is attempts to pour several apoplectic movies into one under the misunderstanding the more is better. Here's my summary of what's in Example No. 1:
  • Movie 1: Hell unleashed on Earth. 
  • Movie 2: A professor of paranormal theistic anomalies (period). And isn't that redundant "paranormal - anomalies" and contradictory "professor - theistic". Sorry, but I can't imagine what either of those are.
  • Movie 3: Professor suffering a crisis of faith. Does your typical university professor have any faith to be involved in a crisis about it? Still can't imagine it.
  • Movie 4: Anyone trying to uncover a deeply hidden Vatican secret. What does it mean to "stem... a secret." I can't imagine what that means.
  • Movie 5: The Pope's secretary is murdered. (Ah, that's intriguing.)
  • Movie 6: Anyone dying by stigmata. Actually anyone WITH stigmata for real. 
  • Movie 7: A ghoul-like-child. 
Now when you put all of that together there's no foundation for the audience to know where reality is. It seems like anything is possible, with no real tie-in to the lives of the people in the audience -- unless it's an audience of paranormal-theistic anomaly professors who look like ghoulish children with stigmatas, all out to murder the pope. With such an audience, this just might catch on.

Example No. 2
THE OAK TREES EVER (Aragon Olano) - Romance.  Two people from two different worlds desperately hold on to one love that blossomed between two mysterious oak tress.
My imagination is still challenged. What in the "world" is this about? Who's the protagonist? Who's the antagonist? What is the goal? Is this the story of two aliens sent to Earth as punishment for their carnal activities but are caught in a flood and must breed between two oak trees wrapped in Christmas tree lights? Anybody have a hint? Anybody? Anybody at all!?

Example No. 3
There were several like this. So general it could apply to nearly every movie, novel, and comic book ever written:
AND DARKNESS FELL (Phillip Frydendall) Four antagonistic humans are thrust into a fact-paced journey through time. Not all will survive as they become entrenched in the chaos and woe of mankind's history and that of the universe - past, present and future - amid the onslaught of demonic forces attempting to usurp humanity.
I don't know about you, but that one wraps up the whole log line industry.  I mean, what doesn't it include with a line like "past, present and future...usurping humanity."


A good log line does many things. It focuses and inspires the writer, it attracts producers and money, and it sells the intended audience. It may change over time, but it becomes the driving force of the physical story, i.e. the log line is the physical premise.  [Meanwhile the Moral Premise drives the psychological thread of the story. Put them together in a Moral-Physical Premise Statement.... but that's another of a dozen posts, herein.]

From my workshop here's what it takes... and then some examples. A good log line is:
  • Based on a SINGLE PHYSICAL HOOK that is otherworldly, out of the ordinary, and intriguing. You only get ONE HOOK PER STORY and everything else has to mind-meld with reality.
  • The verb defines an INTENSE or INTRIGUING STRUGGLE
  • The direct object  is an UNRELENTING and STRONG ANTAGONIST
  • The qualifying prepositional phrases establish the protagonist's GOAL and the STAKES.
To add frosting to your log line, it should:
  • Imply (not state) GENRE and SETTING
  • Infuse IRONY between protagonist and goal
  • Inspire the reader to VISUALLY IMAGINE the story
  • Instantly demonstrate MARKETABILITY
  • Indicate that the protagonist is on the OFFENSE and not passive.
Now how about some good log lines from the same INK TIP Magazine? I think these fulfill the above criteria very well... and are all movies I'd like to see.
THE MOTHERLOAD (Joan Macbeth) - A woman, estranged from her family for years, reluctantly agrees to drive her recently widowed mother across the country, only to discover her mother has Alzheimer's.
There were too many examples where the mafia or the Russians are the bad guys. We need new good bad guys, but this one sounded less pretentious and actually human.
SAYING HELLO TO THE DEVIL (B.J. Williams) - A hit man, seeking to absolve this haunted past, wages war against the Russian Mafia in hopes of saving the life of a nine-year-old girl they hired him to kill.
This next one I'm going to edit a bit. It reminds me of the jewelry commercials on YouTube featuring a "dog house":
HUBBY CAMP (Ocean Palmer) - Three irritated wives trick their husbands into attending a remote martial correctional facility that specializes in intense remediation in order to reshape underachieving and disappointing husbands.
This next one is slated as a comedy, but it sounds more like a wonderfully redemptive drama. I'm going to edit it a tad as well.
SO YOU WANT TO BE FAMOUS (Don Aldrich) - An aspiring but not very good actress in L.A. contends with her retired live-in grandmother, a retired Broadway superstar, to help underprivileged students of the performing arts.
Still editing... here's a comedy.
CINDERS (Carolfrances Likins) - Cinders refuses to go to the ball - she'd rather stay behind with her tattered friends and scheme the overthrow of the kingdom - but her fairy godmother arrives with other plans.
And finally my favorite, becasue of the clear metaphor, the sign of a good film although it again uses the trite backdrop of the mob.
THE JANITOR (Matthew Blackburn) - A man escapes his past life as hired mob muscle, keeps a low profile as a high school janitor, and takes an opportunity to redeem himself by mentoring a young girl. But when drugs run rampant in the school, [and the girl's life is threatened], this janitor must clean up.

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