As a film producer, people are always pitching me their script ideas. As I sit there listening to them, or reading their email, I soon realise that they don't actually know or understand the difference between a tag line and a logline. In the scriptwriting business, it's essential to know how to write a logline. In the novel and short story business, not so much. However, even if you are in the novel or short story business, you should know how to sum up your concept in one single, succinct sentence. Doing so helps you to clearly define and understand your plot, and it's a good thing to have should you ever find yourself in a room with someone who could potentially get your work published or produced.
So, with that said, let's take a look at the difference between a logline and a tag line?
Okay, well, a tag line is a ‘hook’. It’s the line that producers/distributors/production companies put on posters to hook you into going to see the movie. I tagline is designed to make you cry I wanna see that! For example:
- Alien (1979): In space no one can hear you scream (arguably this is the best tag line ever devised)
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977): We are not alone
- The Terminator (1984): Your future is in his hands / The thing that won’t die, in the nightmare that won’t end
- Terminator 2 (1991): The battle for tomorrow has begun… / Get terminated July 3
- War of the Worlds (2005): They’re already here / This summer, the last war on Earth won’t be started by humans
- Children of Men (2006): No children. No future. No hope.
If you’re interested in reading more, there’s a whole page of taglines here:
Now that we’re clear on what a tagline is, what the heck is logline? Glad you asked.
Let’s start off with what it’s not – it is not a pitch. As such, it is not a sentence that is designed for the audience/general public.
It is a sentence that is designed to ‘sell’ the concept to a producer/production company/director/actor.
It is a formulaic sentence that tells a producer/director everything they need to know about your story/script in one sentence. It includes the beginning, middle, and the end of the story. It’s the whole shebang – the who, what, why, where, and how – told in around sixty words.
Now, I know what your next question is going to be – what’s the formula? Okay, well, the best example of logline structure that I’ve ever found comes from Jeffery Alan Schechter who wrote Write Now, Right Now. Jeffery's formuala is this:
When a TYPE OF PERSON has/does/wants/gets A, he gets/does/tries/learns B, only to discover that C now happens and he must respond by doing D.
Jeffery uses the example of Home Alone to demonstrate the formula.
When an underappreciated boy is accidentally left behind by his family when they leave for a European vacation he must learn how to take care of himself and be the man of the house only to discover that his house has been targeted by bungling burglars whom he thwarts several times before realizing that they know that he is alone and are coming back. (Total 64 words)
Break it down:
TYPE OF PERSON: When an underappreciated boy
HAS/DOES/WANTS/GETS: is accidentally left behind by his family when they leave for a European vacation
HE GETS/DOES/TRIES/LEARNS: he must learn how to take care of himself and be the man of the house
ONLY TO DISCOVER: only to discover that his house has been targeted by bungling burglars whom he thwarts several times before realizing that they know that he is alone and are coming back
Jeffery also uses the example for E.T.
When a lonely boy finds a stranded space alien, he decides to keep him as a pet only to discover that since the alien can’t live on earth for too much longer he will try to get it home, but in order to do so he will have to thwart the efforts of a dedicated team of government scientists. (Total 59 words)
Break it down:
TYPE OF PERSON: When a lonely boy
HAS/DOES/WANTS/GETS: finds a stranded space alien
HE GETS/DOES/TRIES/LEARNS: he decides to keep him as a pet
ONLY TO DISCOVER: that since the alien can’t live on earth for too much longer he will try to get it home, but in order to do so he will have to thwart the efforts of a dedicated team of government scientists
If you’re having trouble with your logline, I recommend giving Jeffery’s formula a try. If nothing else, it’s a great starting point from which you can branch out and/or tweak. As with everything writerly, there are no absolute hard and fast rules. However, there are guidelines and some guidelines are better than others. Use this guideline. It’s a good one.