LOTS OF LOG LINES
In our travels as the “pitch guys,” we are often called upon to talk about log lines. It’s not hard to see why. Of all the kinds of pitches, the most common kind in the film and TV business is the humble log line. Usually two or three sentences, running 50 words or less, it’s the briefest answer to the question, “So, what’s it about?” But for all their brevity, crafting a good log line can be surprisingly difficult. In our book, The Hollywood Pitching Bible: 3rd Edition, we spend something like 15 pages on the topic, but for the purposes of this article, we will summarize the kinds of elements that a good log line should convey:
Assuming the log line is presented without any other context, it should contain the title, genre, and (sometimes) the anticipated MPAA rating (if it’s a movie idea).
It needs to convey the world or setting of the story, if it’s unfamiliar. This includes when the story takes place (if it’s a period piece or an unfamiliar timeline), where the story takes place (if the location is important to the story), and any fantastical elements.
It should describe the main character or group of characters in a way that explains why they are the most interesting person/people for this story.
A good log line sets up the story in a way that conveys the character(s) goal and the major obstacle to that goal – and does so in a way that is active, visual, and can fill 90+ minutes of screen time.
The stakes for the character(s) must also must be clear.
We are often asked for examples of good log lines that do these things, so below are numerous log lines examples of recent existing movies. We’re doing existing movies because our examples will only be helpful if you know the story and thereby can understand the choices we’ve made. But before you read these samples, we need to give you a few caveats, so hang in there. This is important.
The following are what we call “stand along” log lines - the most complete version of a log line. These log lines assume they must “stand alone” as the entire pitch. If all you are pitching is a log line, these are the Cadillacs of log lines. If you know the films, sure, there might be simpler log lines, but try to imagine if the film didn’t exist. What would the listener need to know? This is the tricky part about pitching, because it’s sometimes hard to imagine what the buyer/listener doesn’t know.
Even when the movie is based on underlying material, we assumed that the listener was unfamiliar with that material.
Lastly, these log lines are less about poetry and more about maximum clarity. Please leave us comments below, and let us know what you think!
“American Hustle” is an R-rated crime drama based on the 1970’s Abscam scandal. An arrogant, small-time con artist and his seductive lover are forced by the FBI into a dangerous sting operation involving political corruption and the Mafia. (38 words) “Big Hero 6” is a PG animated superhero film set in the near future. After the death of his older brother, a young robotics genius befriends a child-like medical robot. Together they team up with a group of robotics students to defeat the evil scientist who may have killed the older brother. (51 words) Based on a true story, "Captain Phillips" is a PG-13 thriller. In 2009, Captain Phillips, his crew, and cargo ship are hijacked and taken hostage by desperate Somali pirates. But when negotiations don’t go as planned, the resourceful captain struggles to keep himself and his crew alive. (47 words) “The Conjuring” is an R-rated supernatural horror film. When a family experiences disturbing events at their remote farmhouse, they hire a married couple of paranormal investigators. But as the terror escalates, the couple must risk a dangerous exorcism to rid the house of its evil spirit. (46 words) “Edge of Tomorrow” is a PG-13 sci-fi/action film set in the near future. When Earth is attacked by monstrous aliens, a cowardly public relations officer becomes the key to defeating the invaders when he finds himself re-living the same battle over and over again. (44 words) “Frozen” is a PG animated family adventure. When a magical princess accidentally curses her kingdom with eternal winter, her spunky younger sister must team with a rugged mountain man to save the princess and the kingdom. (36 words) “Gone Girl” is an R-rated psychological thriller, based on a bestselling novel. An unfaithful husband is suspected of murder when his seemingly-perfect wife disappears. But as the husband tries to prove his innocence, he uncovers disturbing things about the woman he married. (42 words) Based on the bestseller, “The Hunger Games” is a PG-13 sci-fi adventure film set in a dystopian future. A resourceful but unassuming teenage girl must learn to be a warrior when she is forced to compete in a televised fight to the death against twenty-three other teenage competitors. (48 words) “Identity Thief” is an R-rated comedy. A mild-manner accountant’s life is ruined when his identity is stolen by a kooky female thief. To clear his name, the accountant must find the thief and bring her to justice while being chased by an assortment of unsavory characters. (46 words) “Interstellar” is a PG-13 sci-fi adventure. With the Earth dying, a reluctant astronaut who is also a single father embarks on a journey to explore a mysterious wormhole and find a new home for humanity while fighting to keep his promise to his daughter that he will return. (48 words) “Kingsmen: The Secret Service” is an R-rated action comedy. A tough British street kid is recruited into an elite aristocratic spy organization called the Kingsmen. But when the Kingsmen are betrayed, the street kid must save the world from a genocidal tech genius. (43 words) Based on real events, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” is a PG-13 historical drama about an African-American man who served as White House butler for eight US Presidents. Over the course of 30 years, the Butler and his family must survive the sweeping social changes confronting America. (46 words) “The Lego Movie” is a PG animated comedy/adventure set inside a fantastic world of Lego toys. A cheerful but ordinary construction worker is mistaken for the “chosen one” and embarks on a quest to save the Lego universe from an evil tyrant bent on stifling creativity and mobility. (48 words) “Lucy” is an R-rated sci-fi action film. An American woman living abroad accidently ingests an experimental drug when forced to be a drug mule. But when the drug gives her superhuman abilities she tries to understand what’s happening to her, while evading capture by the dangerous gang that gave her the drug. (52 words) “Maleficent” is a PG-13 dark fantasy, based on the story of Sleeping Beauty from the evil queen’s point of view. When she is jilted in love, young Maleficent casts an evil spell on the daughter of her lover. But she begins to reconsiders her evil ways when the young lady falls under her care. (54 words) “The Maze Runner” is a PG-13 sci-fi thriller set in the future. A teen boy is trapped in a community surrounded by a colossal maze structure, built by unknown captors. The teen must prove his ability as a “runner” when he joins an elite group of teens who search for a way out of the ever-changing, deadly maze. (58 words) “Pacific Rim” is a sci-fi action film set in the near future. When giant monsters from the ocean overrun the world, mankind builds giant piloted robots to battle the beasts. A top robo-pilot mourning the loss of his co-pilot must train an inexperienced young woman as his new co-pilot to save the world. (51 words) “The Ride Along” is PG-13 buddy comedy. A fast-talking, high school security guard gets in over his head when he accompanies his girlfriend’s street-cop brother investigating a dangerous international smuggler. (30) “This is the End” is an R-rated supernatural comedy set in Hollywood. The good times come to the end for a group of shallow Hollywood actors who must fight to survive when the world is gripped by a global apocalypse – the Rapture. (42 words) Based on the inspirational true story, “Unbroken” is a PG-13 World War II drama about survival and courage. When US Olympian Louie Zamperini’s bomber is shot down during a mission, he must summon unprecedented determination to survive shark infested waters and then prolonged brutal capture in a Japanese POW camp. (50 words) Based on a true story, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is an R-Rated black comedy about the rise of an ambitious young stockbroker in the late 80s. But the broker’s lavish lifestyle and criminal excess soon attracts the attention of the FBI and he must fight for everything he’s built. (50 words) “World War Z” is a PG-13 Sci-Fi adventure film. A UN Employee must leave his family to help stop a Zombie apocalypse. Racing against time, he travels the world to find the origins of the deadly pandemic that threatens to destroy humanity. (42 words)