Nobody buys loglines anymore

In Hollywood jargon, a logline is a one or two sentence summary of a film or television program. In other words, it’s the elevator pitch of an idea.
For example, you might recognise the movies represented by these loglines:

After a series of grisly shark attacks, a sheriff struggles to protect his small beach community against the bloodthirsty monster, in spite of the greedy chamber of commerce.

When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an insane and corrupt prince, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge.

A psychologist struggles to cure a troubled boy who is haunted by a bizarre affliction – he sees dead people.

Screenwriters put a lot of time and effort into crafting their loglines, because they know it either opens the door to a Hollywood studio or it doesn’t. But the thing is, that’s all the logline does – opens the door. The writer still has to back it up with a synopsis and full script (which usually goes through several rounds of drafts).post it notes

Now, ideas are extremely important. Indeed, they are the origin of any action, but by themselves they’re almost worthless. It’s only when lots of hard work is applied in bringing them to life that they become truly valuable.

Many advertising creatives are indoctrinated into an ‘idea is everything’ way of thinking. But outside the agency creative department, it’s a very different story. Most high-value ideas only realise their worth once they’re up and running. The online clothing company across the hall from my office that recently sold for $70 million is a great example. Their idea wasn’t sold on ‘a logline’; it was sold as a functioning machine.

Nick Law of R/GA tells the story of how he presented to some investors in Silicon Valley. In ‘advertising-style’, Nick and his team had beautiful-looking concept boards and a strong idea. However, their audience soon dismissed them when they hadn’t actually built the product yet.

So while ideas are important, it’s worth remembering that they’re only part of the battle. Getting one up and running is where the money lies. That’s even reflected in how ad agencies predominantly make their money (i.e. head hours and studio time, rather than concept fees and licensed I.P.).

P.S. And if you didn’t recognise the movie logline examples, they’re Jaws, Gladiator  and The Sixth Sense.
Image source: Josh Evnin, http://josh.ev9.org/weblog/archives/category/free-design-idea

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2 responses to “Nobody buys loglines anymore

  1. Hi,

    I am not up to speed on Hollywood “jargon,” but you are right. The log line itself; is simply a “conceptualized pitch.” After all, one has to start somewhere to get the attention of big name producers (short of hiring an agent)

    As you stated it still does have a purpose, and should “grab their attention.” However, as you pointed out; it is the synopsis, (treatment) the Three Act introduction, the query letter, and the three paragraph summary; that do the “heavy lifting” of getting the concept “sold.”

    I agree – no cash changes hands for a simple log line…but without it, what flag could you wave that would get them to “take a look?”

    Good point. I look forward to your future posts.

    Very Best Regards,

    Stephen Monday

  2. robert defrank

    I heard that Robert Kosberg buys loglines; anyone know to contact him? His website, Moviepitch, has been inactive since 2012.

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