The next step in any screenplay project is to begin at the top of the outline and fill in the blanks. First, define the central idea with what is called the logline. If you cannot communicate that great idea you had in one sentence, it is not that good of an idea. Conversely, if you can and it fits the criteria for an excellent logline, which will be discussed later, then you are on your way to creating a screenplay.
A good logline is a one-sentence description of the film. Often, novice writers think in terms of the first and third acts, but the central idea primarily takes place in the second act. Therefore, the essence of the logline is what will happen in act two. It answers the question, “What is the film about?” A logline can sometimes be expanded into two sentences, but this is often a sign of a beginner. Hone the skill of making your logline one sentence of no more than about 30 words.
Known as the quick pitch or the elevator pitch, there are four essential elements to the logline: the genre, the protagonist, the protagonist’s goal, and the conflict. Sometimes included in the logline, but not necessary, are the antagonist and the antagonist’s implied goal. That said, the four key elements of any good logline are indispensable, not optional.
The most often forgotten part in a logline is the genre. By including the genre, you will be immediately defining the story in the mind of whomever you are pitching it to. Is it a comedy or a drama? Is it an action film or thriller? Do not leave the person guessing; nothing good can come from that.
While there are several sub-genres and each genre can be qualified, the following are the basic genres in which every film will fall: Action/Adventure, Comedy, Crime/Mystery, Drama, Dramedy, Fantasy, Horror, Musical, Romance, Romantic Comedy (RomCom), Science Fiction (Sci-Fi),
Thriller/Suspense, and Western. Defining the primary genre of the movie in the logline eliminates confusion about the true nature of the story.
Ideally, the logline begins with the protagonist that is the hero of the story. The term protagonist does not mean that the individual is a good person or will become a good person. What it means is that the film is that person’s story; they are pushing it to its resolution by the choices that they make along the way, which are called critical decisions. As a principle, there is only one major protagonist in every movie, even in a buddy picture. This one key character carries the story along, and it is important to know who that character is from the start.
Along with the protagonist is his or her goal. More will be discussed about the goals of the protagonist, but the logline represents the central idea of the movie. The central idea takes place in act two; therefore, the protagonist’s second act goal is the goal used in the logline.
Finally, in the logline, there is the conflict. Conflict is the most essential element of a story. Without conflict, there can be no story. Consider carefully what conflict will arise by the protagonist attempting to accomplish his or her goal. This can occur from several sources and from several directions and is the force of forces that tries to prevent the protagonist from succeeding. It will be repeated again and again that conflict should be a part of every scene. In the logline, the conflict needs to be as strong as possible. As an example, an evil empire threatening violence is weak conflict. An evil empire attacking a peaceful people is strong conflict. A woman scorned is weak conflict. A woman out for revenge is strong conflict. Within the conflict of a logline is the implied goal of the antagonist or antagonistic force. Nevertheless, defining the antagonist and the antagonist’s goal in a logline makes it stronger.