Anatomy of the Best Loglines

Knowing where to start in the creative process of writing can be daunting for a first time filmmaker. I know it was for me. I’ve tried building a story around every possible thing imaginable, and I found Blake Snyder’s longline method from his infamous book, Save the Cat, to be the most effective.

His argument centers around starting your writing process by creating something called a logline (your entire movie summarized in a sentence). He would say, if you can’t do this in a compelling way from the start, then you don’t have a story worth telling.

Many of you more seasoned writers may find this approach “formulaic,” however for writers starting out, this is a great place to begin.  

Ingredients for the best logline:

  • One Character
  • One Goal
  • One Source of Conflict with a dash of Irony

In short what you will be creating is the following equation:

Your hero is going for their goal, but something ironic happens to stop them.

If you cannot put your story within this simple formula, then perhaps your story is too complicated, OR missing a crucial element.

FOR EXAMPLE:

Disgraced pilot, E. Ripley is left with PTSD after her encounter with the xenomorph and tries to rebuild a life for herself. However, when a human colony is overrun with xenomorphs, Ripley may be their only hope.

From the film Aliens

ripley

Element 1: Establish Your Hero

The first step is to insert your main character into your logline. This isn’t a place to go into great detail on their backstory; all that’s needed are one or two descriptive words. Sometimes the scenario they find themselves in is sufficient enough information.

As Blake Snyder says, you want to paint a clear enough picture in the minds of those who will hear your logline. They need to be able to see where your story is going. This includes who your character is.

In my example, I defined Ellen Ripley as a disgraced pilot with PTSD. We know she’s an underdog, and it will be easy for the audience to get behind her.

Emma-watson-as-belle

Element 2: Establish Your Hero’s Goal

The next step is to show what the character is trying to accomplish before they are confronted by the story’s major conflict.

In Vertigo, Scottie is investigating Madeline for her husband (his goal) before he begins to fall in love with her (the conflict).

In Beauty and the Beast, Belle wants more than what her small town has to offer (goal) before she is held prisoner in an enchanted castle (the conflict).

Sometimes the goal can be something more passive, or simply keeping the status quo. For example, in Toy Story, Woody isn’t actively trying to do something new, but is enjoying the “status quo” of being the toy on top.

Don’t just tell us WHO your character is, but where we find them at the start of the story.

For Ellen Ripley, I have her trying to rebuild a life for herself.

Warrior

Element 3: Conflict with a Dash of Irony

Lastly, we introduce our story’s major source of conflict into the logline.

This is where people tend to struggle the most, either because they realize they have no real source of conflict throughout their story. Even if they do it’s lacking the crucial element of irony which gives a story it’s hook, edge, or bite.

Conflict is truly what starts your story and what moves it forward. Without this element, there is no story.

In my example from Aliens, the conflict comes from the xenomorphs overtaking a colony, forcing the corporation to turn to Ripley for help.

It’s conflict, because it’s both stopping her from starting a new life, while giving her an opportunity to gain her old life back.

Irony?

Before I explain how irony comes to play in this equation, let me explain what irony IS. There are two forms of irony: situational and irony of fate. Situational irony is when events defy expectations, while irony of fate is when it seems the gods, fate, the universe, etc are toying with humanity for their own amusement.

Situational irony would be getting robbed by a police officer (an amoral act practiced by someone who is sent out to stop such behavior). Jesus being crucified by the very people he was to save is another great example of situational irony. Both examples play on your expectations and subvert them.

Irony of fate is when something occurs with lasting consequence beyond a specific situation. A former athlete who is now paralyzed is an example of irony of fate. Beethoven, one of the world’s greatest composers lost his hearing. He can no longer hear the beautiful music he puts out into the world. Irony of fate.

Irony is all about subverting our expectations in an effort to hook us.

The irony in Aliens is drawn mostly from the situation Ripley finds herself in; she was seen as a pariah and a liability by the company at the start of the film, and becomes the very person who could save them.

That’s irony.

There’s no right way to go through the writing process, but by beginning with a logline my writing has grown simpler and stronger. I hope it helps you on your own writing journey. For more great film advice, check out Blake Snyder’s book, Save the Cat.

Written by Brenden Bell.

 

Should “13 Reasons Why” Never Have Been Told?

Written by Charis Jackson.

Creatives, how do we know when we’ve stepped over the line creatively?

13 Reasons Why, is one of the most popular shows on Netflix right now, but should we be watching it? Should it have been filmed? Or even created? These are the questions tossing around in my head at the moment.

The story follows Hannah Baker, a young girl who experiences severe bullying and trauma to the point where she commits suicide. She leaves behind several cassette tapes for a selection of classmates explaining why they and the choices they made are the reason why she ended her life.

13 Reasons Why, which was inspired by the book of the same name, written by Jay Asher, has come under an unexpected attack by several mental health organisations around Australia and the US. They’ve urged teens and young adults to avoid the show because of the extreme graphic content.

I have to say, I’m torn. On one hand, I completely understand their concern. However, as a writer, filmmaker and creative, I was impressed with the story and their willingness to show the raw situations and even the actual suicide.

In the featurette, 13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons, producer Selena Gomez said, “We wanted to do it in a way where it was honest, and we wanted to make something that could hopefully help people because suicide should never ever be an option.

But now with organisations like Headspace, issuing warnings to younger viewers, I have to take another look at the role of the creative in all this.

In an interview with Channel 9’s Today Extra, Child Psychologist Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg stated, “It’s essentially an audio-visual manual for suicide.”

Can it be true? Can a story impact the world in such a negative way, when their aim was to bring awareness and give less power to these horrible situations?

When talking about the choice to film the actual suicide, Brian Yorkey, Executive Producer said, “We worked very hard not be too gratuitous, but we did want it to be painful to watch, because we wanted it to be very clear that there is nothing in any way worthwhile about suicide.

The job of a creative is to speak where others can’t. Creatives have a way of putting words to how people feel. Growing up, I was always impressed with how songs and shows could put words to feelings I couldn’t explain and because they were able to express them, it helped me grow in maturity, but I have to wonder if we can go too far in revealing truth.

More than anything, what 13 Reasons Why reminds me of, is the importance of our words and choices. This is a central theme in the show, but also is being revealed in the backlash it’s now experiencing. Where they aimed to tell the truth and give people a hope there were other solutions than suicide, it now appears they’ve only brought further damage.

In one news source, Headspace said they’re receiving more calls and emails which are in direct correlation with the show. Obviously, they’re concerned, but I can’t help wondering if the show has actually done more good than harm.

13RW_101_00771R

There were many times during the show, where I kept hoping Hannah would tell the truth, that she would take her communication teacher’s advice and tell people when they’d hurt her.

Recently, I had a small argument with a friend. As a teen and young adult, my usual response to these kinds of situations was to internally shut down. When my friend asked if I was ok, instead of shutting down, I told her, with no aggression what she’d said, made me feel like I didn’t have a right to voice what I was saying. I was surprised by how easily the situation was resolved once we’d both calmly spoken the truth.

And this came as a direct response to my experience and the lessons I’d learned from watching 13 Reasons Why.

In a Vanity Fair article, Nic Sheff, one of the writers of the show talked about his own experience with depression and his attempt to take his life. He recounts while he was trying to take his life, a memory of another woman’s story of how she’d tried to commit suicide, came back to him and stopped him from going further. “The whole story came back to me in heightened detail.” He said, “It was an instant reminder that suicide is never peaceful and painless, but instead an excruciating, violent end to all hopes and dreams and possibilities for the future.”

Ultimately, creatives have the responsibility and duty to impart wisdom and truth to their audience. It’s their gift and their curse. Sometimes this will be received well, other times there will be backlash. I have to trust as long as I’m owning this responsibility and doing everything I can to be sensitive and ethical in what I create, then I need to let the rest take care of itself.

I think we need to give the creators and storytellers of 13 Reasons Why a break. Maybe organisations like Headspace are receiving more calls, but what if it’s because the show has given young teens hope they can turn to someone? What if the show has impacted people to seek help because they’ve seen how many people were horribly affected by Hannah’s decision.

Suicide is never ever an option. I’m no psychologist, but don’t you think the more we bring things into the open, the less power they have to control us? This is exactly what the creators of 13 Reasons Why were hoping to accomplish. I think instead of seeing the growing number of calls and emails as a warning, we should see it as a hope and the fruit of their labor, because the fact of the matter is, people are reaching out for help.

Regardless, this discussion is good for us creatives and independent filmmakers to consider, are you being responsible with your art?

If you or anyone you know is in need of help, please reach out to organisations like Headspace 1800 650 890, or Lifeline 13 11 14

This article was originally published on Christian Today.