Taglines, Loglines and the Haiku of Screenwriting

The Kaskelot in Bangor (England) is moored to the dock with two lines, from wikipedia, photo by Ross
The Kaskelot in Bangor (England) is moored to the dock with two lines, from wikipedia, photo by Ross

Simple Analogy (but maybe it Works)

Screenwriting is a well defined craft. There’s not a whole lot of room for flexibility…..at least not at first glance. In a script for a full length film, the text should come in at just under 120 pages. Font is a mandatory New Courier with even spaces between each letter. Your story is told from start to finish by the use of several basic written components. Most important,  is the dialogue, spoken between characters. In between dialogue,there is action and setting, which isaptly  noted by small blocks of description.

Then come the Sluglines, which give a quick  heading to each scene.  Rounding up the screenwriter’s toolbox are various commands directed towards the final composition of the film. These include such well-used prompts as fade in, fade out, superimpose, cut to and montage (of shots), just to name a few. In reality, this limited palette of writing tools just makes the writers job more challenging. Taglines and Loglines actually fall outside of writing the script and are in many ways much like the two mooring lines pictured above, for they anchor the main ship to the commercial doc. However in a screenplay, they do so in different ways.

The Logline

Loglines identify movies, for each movie has one. By the time the film hits the big screen the logline is passe′, but during the development process, the logline is essential to promoting and eventually selling the script to producers and financial backers. Therefore it is essential that the screenwriter come with a catchy one or two sentence riff that defines the proposed movie in a nutshell.

Loglines of Successful Movies

1. “A man with no name and a man with a mission hunt a Mexican bandit for different reasons.”  For a Few Dollars More

2. ” A college graduate, home for the summer, has an affair with the wife of his father’s business partner, then falls in love with her daughter.”  The Graduate (Compare this with the tagline, which is much better)

3.  “Naïve Joe Buck arrives in New York City to make his fortune as a hustler, but soon strikes up an unlikely friendship with the first scoundrel he falls prey to.”  Midnight Cowboy

4. “An Iowa housewife, stuck in her routine, must choose between true romance and the needs of her family.”  Bridges of Madison County

5. “Charlie Brown is finally invited to a Halloween party; Snoopy engages the Red Baron in a dogfight; and Linus waits patiently in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin.” It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

6. Only two men can save the world when Aliens attack and attempt to loot and destroy Earth on July 4th.” Independence Day

7. “Upon admittance to a mental institution, a brash rebel rallies the patients to take on an oppressive head nurse, a woman he views more as more dictator than nurse.” One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

8. “A 17th century tale of adventure on the Caribbean Sea where the roguish yet charming Jack Sparrow joins forces with the young blacksmith in a gallant attempt to rescue the Governor of England’s daughter and reclaim his ship.” Pirates of the Caribbean

What Is a Tagline?

In short, a Tagline is an abbreviated version of a logline. It is the catchy little slogan that helps sell your movie to the right people and then it may be used a second time to make a favorable impression on the general public.

Great Movies and Their Corresponding Taglines

1. “The longer you wait, the harder it gets.” The Forty-year Old Virgin

2. “The bitch is back.” Alien 3

3. “They had a date with fate in Casablanca.” Casablanca

4. “The nearer they get to their treasure, the farther they get from the law.” The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

5. “The movie too HOT for words!” Some like It Hot

6. “It’s all about women…and their men!” All About Eve

7. “This is Benjamin. He’s a little worried about his future.”  The Graduate

8. “Pray for Rosemary’s Baby.”  Rosemary’s Baby

9. “On every street in every city, there’s a nobody who dreams of being a somebody.” Taxi Driver

10. “M*A*S*H Gives a D*A*M*N.” M.A.S.H.

11. “How far does a girl have to go to untangle her tingle?” Deep Throat

12. “The snobs against the slobs!” Caddyshack

13. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The Shining

14. “Can two friends sleep together and still love each other in the morning?”  When Harry Met Sally

15. “And you thought Earth girls were easy…” Bad Girls from Mars

16. “What if someone you never met, someone you never saw, someone you never knew was the only someone for you?” Sleepless in Seattle

17. “This Ain’t No Chick Flick!” AND “Escape or Die Frying.” Chicken Run

18. “They have a plan…but not a clue.” O Brother, Where Art Thou?

19. “EARTH – take a good look. Today could be your last.” Independence Day

20. “The Toys are back in town.” Toy Story 2

Get the Picture

There is a distinct difference between a logline and a tagline. While the logline attempts to follow good sentence and grammatical structure, the tagline, more often than not, breaks free from the restraints of good grammar into the realm of slick sloganisms  and making the English language do the boogie-woogie. And this my friends is the basic essence of taglines and loglines.

Do E-query Services Work?

Publicity shot for Dr. Steel and his robot band from wikipedia
Publicity shot for Dr. Steel and his robot band from wikipedia

All writing is discipline, but screenwriting is a drill sergeant.”  ― Robert McKee,

My Experiment

Last year, I used two different e-query services to seek representation for two different screenplays. Here’s what happened. Over the course of several years, I had written two, feature length screenplays. Each one came in at about 120 pages, a tad long for a feature film, but still workable if I could find the right party. One adventuresome tale took place in Central America during a period of political unrest, while the other story was set on a dairy farm in the northeastern U.S. Both plays had strong comedic elements, so I thought I had a chance at optioning one of the stories, though it was definitely a long shot.

My Plan

Besides, if I could not find a buyer for the scripts, then I could always (1) enter them in screenplay contests, (2) put them up on Black List or (3) use them as an outline for a novel or novella. Since I had already invested 20,000 words in each script, I thought that I already had a pretty good draft for a short novella. Nonetheless, the idea of selling a script to Hollywood (or elsewhere) was tempting and possibly lucrative, so I chose to go down that road first.

The E-query Services

Conventional advice says not to use an e-query service for seeking representation for a screenplay or anything else literary. According to popular opinion a writer is much better off, submitting query letters to individual professionals, whose field of interest most closely matches your story. But I had tried that method with no significant results, so I decided spend a little money on an e-query service. The dairy farm script went out through Scriptblaster and for the Central American story, I chose E-query Direct. The price was 39.99 for E-query Direct (300 recipients) and 89.00 for Scriptblaster (650 recipients). Each service produced one contact worthy of mention, which is more interest than I had received from sending out queries one at a time and personalizing each query to the appropriate party. Following are my results.

An Ongoing Relationship

One development company, located in Los Angeles, requested a PDF (standard fare for screenplays) for the Central American story, then over a year later, they requested the other script, even though I had not promoted these screenplays at any other time. The readers gave very favorable comments about each story, but at this point in time, I have not received any offers on either story. However, when I do complete my next script, I will definitely be contacting this group about my latest effort.

The Phone Call The biggest surprise of all came when a successful Hollywood producer called and asked for a paper copy of the dairy farm script. I sent the script by U.S. mail and when I returned the call, I was shocked to find out that I gotten his first name wrong. This upset the man immensely and I have not heard from him since. It is likely that he didn’t like the story, but the other the side of the coin is also possible…….that is he blew me off for unprofessional behavior.         Moral of the story: Don’t screw up the small stuff.

Quality Still Counts

Don’t be fooled by the high number of movie professionals that are on the mailing lists of these online  services, for you still have to have your writing skills down pat, if you want to connect with the film industry. These skills include writing a good query letter, as well as a good movie script. Surprisingly, writing a good query letter might be the most difficult and the most important of these two tasks. Though only a page long, these letters have to be right on. Good karma and Zen enlightenment are a must if you are to succeed with this task.

One More Thing

And then there are those minute, little things called Loglines and Taglines. Consider these the Haiku of screenwriting, for a good one  can go a long way in selling the story.

Good Old Fashioned Storyteller

Save the Cat
Blake Snyder uses this provocative image on the cover of his book on screenwriting, called Save the Cat

Can You Judge A Book By Its Cover?

Blake Snyder is a successful screenwriter, who has written a book, called Save the Cat. The cover has an eye-catching image of a cat hanging off the end of the rope. No doubt that the image is provocative, but can the words inside the book live up to the picture on the outside. Even though the manuscript takes a back-to-basics attitude, the information inside should help anyone involved with the strange and bizarre art of screenwriting, improve their craft.

The Horsehead Nebula in Infrared from Hubble
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STSci/AURA)

Basic Premise

Since its publication in 2005, Save the Cat, is still considered to be a contemporary treatise on screenwriting. Interesting enough, the title comes from the  scenario, where the hero of a movie does something nice……. like save a cat. According to Blake Snyder, the author, every movie should have a “save the cat” moment, though nowadays, most movies fail to employ such a scene.

Glowing Eye Nebula
NGC 6751: The Glowing Eye Nebula
Image Credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, ESA, NASA; Processing – Donald Waid

Narrow Structure

Save the Cat presents a lot of good ideas like studying genre, reading screenplays and writing a good logline before you begin constructing your script. However the part that impressed me the most, was an explanation how a 120 page feature film script can be broken into three basic acts, just as outlined by Aristotle way back when. In Save the Cat, Snyder strongly suggest that you give extra weight to the second act, thus creating Act I (25 pages), Act II (60 pages) and Act III (25 pages). In turn, this will create a 110 page feature film, which according to the author is an ideal length for a screenplay. Most important are three points of interest, which Snyder has conveniently named the catalyst, the midpoint and the synthesis….and these should respectively at page 12, page 55 and page 85. And this folks….is your formula for writing a screenplay.

Ludovisi Collection from the National museum of Rome

Coping With Reality

Screenplays really are strictly structured items though length can vary (slightly) and of course content is very important also. So how does one right a marketable script. That’s still a mystery to me, but Save the Cat does provide a fun read, if nothing more. Also it can make you the hit of a Hollywood party in case you find yourself in that location.

So You Want To Be a Screenwriter

picture from Hubble
NGC 602 and Beyond, Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team

What could be more glamorous than being a screenwriter. Just think about it; you get to hang out in Hollywood, get to meet all sorts of interesting people, get paid lots of money, attend Oscar ceremonies and maybe even you are really good (and lucky) pick up an award every now and then. Does this scenario sound a little too good true? I hope it does, because though all these things are possible, it just might be the case that screenwriting is the most difficult of  writing professions to break into.

And what is really also surprising is that screenwriting is the most regimented of all the writing professions. In fact it is so regimented that there are available software programs that create for you the basic outline of a 120 page screenplay. Remember this is the standard length for screenplays, because two hours is a good length of time for a feature film. Anything longer and your screenplay gets bounced out of the stack (at least that’s what I’ve read), but you can go a little bit shorter than the standard 120 pages and still be in the ballgame.

View from the Hubble Spacecraft
The Fairy of Eagle Nebula, Credit: The Hubble Heritage Team, (STScI/AURA), ESA, NASA

But alas all is not loss for there are successful screenwriters in this world. For an interesting inside look at the profession, check out these two guys here who made the grade. There names are Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio and you can find there fascinating blog here. And be sure to read their fascinating column called Throwin’ In the Towel. They really lay it on the line about what it takes to be a screenwriter. Their writing style is lively and upbeat, and their story is fascinating, for these two guys started out writing a while back. They set a goal of if nothing sold within five years, then they would “throw in the towel” and try something else. But believe it or not they slowly became successful adding such credits to their name as “Shrek”, Aladdin, Little Monsters, The Mask of Zorro and much more. Check out there blog for a fascinating look inside the screenwriter’s world from two successful writers.

Not everyone succeeds and just to get an idea of how rocky the road can get you need check out the story of a screenwriter, who almost made it. Her name is Lorelei Armstrong and you can follow her fascinating story at this site. It seems that Lorelei was a graduate from the UCLA film school who won over 10,000 dollars in various screenwriting contests, but who still could not break into the film industry as a writer. Instead she has gone the route of being a novelist and that whole adventure is discussed at another site of hers. You can also read excerpts from her novel or order the book online. The book is called “In The Face” and it is about Hollywood.

So there you are. My take on the ups and downs of Hollywood. It’s a very unique place indeed.