How To Sell a Screenplay: The Cold Hard Facts
Pro Tip: Start with a logline
By Jen B.
If you’re wondering how to sell a screenplay, a good place to start is a logline. A well-written logline can protect your screenplay from sitting in a pile forever.
“When a producer reads the logline, they want a clear sense of what the story is and a clear sense of what type of budget they’re looking at.”
What is a Logline?
A logline is an overview of your film in one single sentence with a 35-45 word limit. Your logline should clearly tell your story in as few words as possible. It identifies your main characters and the genre of your film. The function of loglines is to hook the script reader and make them want to read your actual screenplay.
Logline vs. Tagline vs. Synopsis
Unlike taglines, which are shorter (only 3-10 words), loglines do not act as witty slogans for your film, they outline the actual story. It’s important to distinguish between loglines and taglines. If you accidentally submit a tagline instead, you’ll be dismissed as an unprofessional screenwriter because you lack the awareness to make the distinction between two very basic things – with a mistake like that you can forget about selling your screenplay. That leaves us with synopses. A screenplay synopsis is a more detailed summary of your film, consisting of several sentences.
Why Are Loglines Important.
It is estimated that 50,000 screenplays are registered with the Writer’s Guild of America each year. Hollywood studios release about 150 movies per year. With the oversaturation of scripts in the industry today and the odds stacked against you, a good logline has never been so important. In fact, without a good logline, selling your screenplay, let alone having it read, is unlikely.
As a writer, you need to understand just how many scripts cross a producer’s desk on a weekly basis. They’re overwhelmed that they don’t even have time for a synopsis, only a logline. So it better be great.
Beware Of Your Words
When you write your logline, take your time. Remember this is not a screenplay synopsis, you have very few words to impress the script reader so pick them very carefully and protect your screenplay from being dumped. Selling your screenplay may rely on this very logline.
Here’s what a logline shouldn’t be:
- Long – don’t cram too much information into your logline. Keep it short and simple.
- Cluttered – if your logline is stuffed with too many adjectives and adverbs, it will be confusing, forcing the reader to do a double-take. You’re now fighting an uphill battle. Everyone is looking for a reason to not read your script, don’t give them one. Simplify your logline so you don’t mess up your chances.
- Ingratiating – don’t explain why the reader will love your script, let them make that distinction. Nothing screams amateur more than a logline that reads “this is a heartwarming tale that will pull at your heart strings and make you desire a sequel.”
- Rhetorical – how to sell a screenplay, you ask? NEVER use rhetorical questions as loglines.
Follow the “One Who and Three Whats” Rule
So what should your logline look like? Every logline should be lean and to the point, answering the central questions that every producer will ask:
- Who is the main character?
- What does the main character want?
- What is in the way of the main character’s “want”?
- What’s at stake?
Here are some examples of loglines that doom a script to the reject pile:
- It’s New Year’s, midnight, and when the car stops, so does your life.
- Why does this suck? Because it completely fails to convey the elements of a story.
- The Usual Suspects meets Avatar.
- Why does this suck? Because it tells us nothing about the story…and tells us the writer is pretty lazy.
- A treacherous suspense cocktail, based upon lies, revenge and lust. Our young, handsome politically aspirant, John Doe, is scouted by a bitter old government agent, Dave, to upset the status quo.
- Why does this suck? Because it’s not a logline at all. It could be a sequence in a movie, but it doesn’t give the script reader a sense of what the story is as a whole.
When a producer reads the logline, they want a clear sense of what the story is and a clear sense of what type of budget they’re looking at. That’s why writing a simple and straightforward logline is best. It speaks the producer’s language.
Now let’s take a look at some good ones that can protect your screenplay from rejection:
- When an army of evil monsters threatens civilization, a ragtag team of 2nd rate superheroes must band together to stop them.
- What makes this good? It quickly tells us what the story is. It’s simple, straightforward, and we know who the heroes are, what they want, what’s at stake, and who’s in the way.
- A marathon runner trains for the race of her life after learning she has limited use of her legs due to a debilitating illness.
- What makes this good? We know what this story is. We know who the main character is, what she wants, what’s in way of the want, and what’s at stake.
- A family camping trip in the woods turns deadly when they cross paths with a recently paroled psychopath.
- What makes this good? Again, we know what this movie is. It’s clear and simple…and it says it all in a single sentence.
Watch This Short Video On a Tutorial About Logline Writing Basics...
Enter a Screenplay Contest
If you have never submitted a script you may want to consider entering a screenplay competition for the experience. The nerve shattering anxiety of submitting a script and getting no response is automatically taken away. When you submit a script to Miami Screenplay Awards your script is guaranteed to be read and the experience and feedback can be very valuable before your big approach to the studio’s.
How To Sell A Screenplay: Stay Simple To Succeed
Keep your logline clear and simple. Long, confusing, and grammatically poor loglines imply that your script is long, confusing, and grammatically poor. But with a good logline, you can give your reader the impression that your script is quick, concise, and professionally written. Simplicity is your friend in this industry. Comment below and let us know your favorite logline of all times!