Thursday, January 01, 2009

Logline Madness

I usually check DoneDealPro every day to see what's selling. I came across this logline for a Tom Cruise flick, and it just drove me batty.
An American tourist finds his life on the line when an agent from Interpol uses him as bait to beat out a criminal. The agent is a woman and once had an affair with the criminal.
We've spoken about loglines before and acknowledge that whatever use they serve - query letters, for example - they rarely if ever are why the particular script you're reading about has sold. So much more has to happen for a studio to shell out the big bucks to buy a script and turn it into a production than a one or two sentence logline can accomplish. In fact, most loglines I read on DDP are probably written after the sale just as a quick description of the project, and can therefore suck.

But let's look at the one above a bit more closely. Loglines, at least the ones we're writing in the League, should give the basic premise or theme of the picture, an idea of the protagonist, and, if you're successful at it, make someone want to read your script. Ok, so, how does this particular one stack up?

An American tourist finds his life on the line when an agent from Interpol uses him as bait to beat out a criminal.
Not bad. Kind of interesting. I get the sense that we're seeing this poor American dude running around Europe, camera dnagling from his neck, and bad guys and bad agents chase him from Paris to Rome. Cool. I could get behind that. Then, I read on.
The agent is a woman and once had an affair with the criminal.
Does anyone else feel like they just ran into a brick wall? First of all, the sentence is just dull. Dead. Lifeless. You only get maybe two sentences to describe your masterpiece. The both need to POP. "The agent is a woman and...." makes me want to go to sleep. Where's the action in this sentence? The past? Boo. Also, it throws a wrench into my idea of this schmuck running around Europe when all he wants to do is take a picture of a really old castle. Poor guy. He's doing all the running, and he's no longer even the most interesting character in these two sentences. He manages to be trumped by a sleeper of a sentence. Logline fail.

I figured I'd take a stab at reworking this just very basically, rearranging a few words and cutting a few. Obviously, I don't know too much about the script, so I'm not changing any elements of the logline. I just tried to make it pop a little more.
An American tourist finds his life on the line when a female Interpol agent uses him to bait out a criminal she once had an affair with.
It's still not perfect, but I think it reads better.

What, When, Where this Weekend - Defiance

What, When, Where is a weekly guide to select screenings, discussions and events in the NYC-area of interest to screenwriters.

Happy new year!

Opening this weekend...

, written by Clayton Frohman and Edward Zwick, dir. by Edward Zwick

In 1941, a group of Jewish brothers organize the largest armed rescue of Jews during the Holocaust.

Playing: Clearview Ziegfeld

Slow week in movie openings - we're just over the Christmas lump and aren't quite to the January flicks yet. This looks pretty good, though. But what's with all of the nazi movies all-of-a-sudden?

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

2008 - The Writing Year; To You in 2009

Happy New Year!

As a welcoming for 2009, I thought I would go back and evaluate all that I had done over the past year. I distinctly remember walking with a friend back home in Arlington, Virginia last New Year's Eve on our way back from picking up some cheap beer (or cheap champagne). We got on the subject of New Years Resolutions, as I think most people do at that time of year. Hers was to stop dating douche bag guys. Mine was to do everything in my power to sell a script, though that did not mean that I specifically had to sell anything in 2008. I wanted to stop being so timid and actually submit to a competition or, dare I say it, two. I wanted to complete a few scripts, and then send out query letters for those. I wanted to call in whatever favors from whatever contacts I had and try to push my work into the industry. Did I meet my writing goals? Could I have done more? How much time did I actually spend working on material?

By January 7th, 2008, I'd written 3 pages of my post-Apocalyptic spec and my first Writing Week. That draft would be completed in the first few months of 2008. After that, I put it aside to work on a new idea I had, to gain some distance from the script that I was told needed some major fixes, but which I was in love with. The second project flew by, yet remains untouched since the FADE OUT at the end of that first draft.

By June, I was in a bit of a rut, along with the majority of the League at that time. We kept tossing ideas back and forth to one another, but not many of us were doing any substantial writing to speak of. Ultimately, I got around to working on the post-Apocalyptic spec again over the summer - the big impetus for that being that I had finally taken the plunge (probably because Onyx twisted my arm so much) and submitted an action spec to two different screenplay competitions. I wanted to be sure that I had another action script to follow it up, should I be so lucky as to attract attention that way.

The summer ended, and with it, my hopes (and those of everyone in the League) for screenplay competition success. Not a one of us advanced in the Scriptapalooza competition, though each and every one of us who submitted made it to the quarter-finals in the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. Disappointed and a little dejected, the writing slowed once more as the last of the summer days turned into Autumn evenings. I received my third round of feedback from the League on my post-Apocalyptic spec and submitted it to an outside working writer, who also gave me feedback.

With the competitions behind me, I turned my attention elsewhere, to another approach new to me. October was Query Month. Zombie was the only one of us to have tried querying agents and producers before that. As roommates, we often time things to correspond with one another, and we did that for query letters. We each compiled a list of people - I stuck solely to managers, while he incorporated a few agents, as well - work shopped our loglines and query letters with the Leaguers, and sent off about a dozen e-queries, choosing only those companies at first who permitted and made e-querying easy through their websites. A dozen emails went out, and the waiting game began.

By late October, I'd heard back from the assistant at one company who really liked my writing. I went on vacation and came back to a rejection letter that he'd had to send on behalf of the managers he worked for. He did, however, send encouraging notes, which gave me hope. As the line between 2008 and 2009 narrowed, I began to push the notion of getting signed that year out of my head. After all, I'd written two new screenplays and finished one of them, done the competitions (and would probably do so again), and sent out my queries. I'd done all I had planned.

Then, in mid December, that call came. The call we all hope for and, no matter how many times we dream about, can never plan for. A NYC based manager called me up and offered me representation. A week later, not even, I'd signed with him and my script was on the desk of a pretty big actor. And just three days ago, at the very last twilight of 2008, I received a bite from another manager, which I had to reject.

If you're reading this blog, I'm going to assume that you're a writer. And, if like us, you're young and still trying to get your foot in the door of this industry, I'll assume you probably have goals for 2009 like I laid out for myself a year ago, like Onyx lays out for himself every summer when his birthday rolls around. If you're wondering how to go about it or if it works, just read through the Writing Week segments I've put up each week, or that anyone in the League has written over the past year. My manager says that the first step is just "writing a great script" and adding to that, to paraphrase Jeffrey Nachmanoff, "great scripts do not lie hidden. Someone will find them." Don't listen to all those people who tell you that queries and competitions don't work, that you must know someone or else you can't break in. Just keep writing and, when your material is ready, get it out there however you can. Copyright it to protect yourself and go on the offensive. If it's ready, people will notice.

To 2009 - may it be all of our Writing Year!