Loglines Versus Taglines

Loglines Are Not Taglines!! Cannot. Stress. This. Enough. Every week I see scores of pitches sent to my inbox, to my ears or via script listing sites. Yet every week I see loglines and taglines being mixed up!!! In the course of this post, I will breakdown which is why  you need to STOP mixing them up, ASAP.

This Is A Tagline

A tagline is the strapline you see on a movie poster or DVD box. Here are some:

  • “He lived the American Dream… With a vengeance.” (Scarface)
  • “An epic of miniature proportions” (A Bug’s Life)
  • “EARTH – take a good look. Today could be your last.” (Independence Day)
  • “The Toys are back in town.” (Toy Story 2)
  • “Whoever wins… We Lose.” (Alien Vs Predator)

Taglines are thought up by the PR guys usually. What’s important to realise is taglines have NOTHING TO DO WITH THE WRITER, it’s usually well after the writer has finished his/her involvement. Handing over a tagline instead of a logline is one of the most obvious ways of turning the reader OFF your pitch.

Of course, sometimes writers are asked to provide taglines. Sometimes this will be when looking for finance, or during meetings. Other times tagline may be asked for in addition to loglines (this is obviously fine).

I’ve done both, over the years. Coming up with taglines can be challenging and very interesting … AS LONG AS you don’t mix them up with loglines!!!!

As you can see in the examples above, taglines often rely on puns and/or make reference to stuff the “average joe” already knows about … The fabled “American Dream”, the notions of winning/losing, contrasting words or famous song lyrics (Busy Lizzy’s “The BOYS are back in town”), etc.

This Is A Logline

In contrast, Loglines are a basic DESCRIPTION OF THE PLOT of your script. This is your chance to SELL THE STORY of your script, so you want it to be dynamic as possible: you want to GRAB the reader and make them WANT to read your script.

The more HIGH CONCEPT your script is, the simpler (and more concise) your logline should be. For example, the logline for Alien Vs Predator might be:

The two mighty creatures slug it out underground, using humans as bait.

Or Independence Day:

Only two men can save the world when Aliens attack and attempt to loot and destroy Earth on July 4th.

Immediately we KNOW what kinds of movies these are – there will be explosions, fighting, monsters, maybe a little gore. Right on!

Low concept loglines?

There’s no such thing as ‘low concept’. These ‘other’ kinds of stories are CHARACTER-LED. Dramas are typically character-led and are a more “hard sell”. It’s not difficult to see why – they are a little more difficult to describe, so require lots of attention to get right. Here’s a case study about the modern classic drama, BLUE VALENTINE to illustrate.

I would argue lots of TV scripts fall under this category, too. They are often more complicated stories because they have up to six hours’ of story to cover, rather than just 1.5 hrs’ worth. This is why I recommend my Bang2writers write TWO loglines on their pitch docs – one covering the series AS A WHOLE, the second covering the pilot that is enclosed with the series bible.

Terrible Taglines

The best taglines are SLICK and CLEVER. The worst are obscure and forgettable.

Weirdly, very often the WORST films have the BEST tagline … Don’t believe me? Here’s a great listing of Hollywood film taglines over the decades, listed chronologically.

The three taglines I hear the most from screenwriters:

  • What would you do?
  • Every age/time/place/city/story/etc needs a hero/ine
  • One night. Three/Four/Five lives. [However many] problems/ stories.

As you can see, not one of these relies on pun, clever wording or anything else *of immediate interest*. They’re also incredibly vague, so have little chance of “hooking” a reader. I also see them ALL THE TIME, so none of them stand out.

Writing loglines is hard!!

So, don’t just dash a logline off and send it out! Get people’s opinions of it first. Thanks to the internet, blogs, forums, etc it’s never been easier to get someone’s opinion on your logline… No one is going to balk at reading 25 – 40 words. So what are you waiting for?

WANT MORE? Here is a useful handout (PDF) comparing loglines of famous films and describing whether their loglines are GOOD, BAD, or simply *okay*. Well worth printing out and putting on your wall!!!

Good Luck!

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16 Responses to NEWSFLASH: Loglines Are Not Taglines. Here’s Why

  1. Batman says:

    Here's both, you may decide which is which…

    Jack Diamond is a private investigator so good, he doesn't have to leave his office to solve a case.

    That is, until he meets the lovely Laura Von Holt, and is asked to solve her husband's murder.

    What do fast cars, beautiful women, and screaming ninjas have in common?

  2. Jared says:

    Not many are blessed with the magical ability to write loglines as naturally brilliant as I do.

    "One night three lives are changed forever when a shocking secret forces friends to confront a past where there’s no going back. What would YOU do?"

    You can't be taught that kind of shit. It just flows.

    God bless.

    • Michael says:

      Edit:

      “The lives of three childhood friends are changed forever when a shocking secret forces them to confront a dark past.”

      Don’t take this offensive, but my friend, you shouldn’t be so conceited about your gift. It’ll stunk your growth as a writer as it clearly did with this log line. The students of my master class just edited your log line and therefore shown you that in does NOT just flow… at least not in you. But with some work on practice and humility, it will.

      • Lucy V Hay says:

        Haha, brilliant. Jared was taking the Mickey! How do I know? Because he took the taglines I flagged up as bad – and he’s also a very good friend of mine offline. “Stunk” is a brilliant Freudian typo, tho 😉

      • Neil says:

        as was “therefore shown you”.

        If you really must call someone out, proofread for heaven’s sake! 😉

  3. John says:

    I hate writing loglines. I find it SERIOUSLY hard. I always end up thinking I've got it and then going back to it and realising "no" so I go back and re-work it and then it's this endless one step forward and two steps back that goes on forever, rather like this sentence…

    I know that you're supposed to have it all done and dusted before you open a shiny new Final Draft document but I usually end up coming up with one and then re-visiting it between drafts. Sometimes, the logline only becomes obvious in the writing. Or at least clearer. Which in turn helps the next draft.

  4. Batman says:

    I write by the seat of my pants 🙂 The logline/tagline comes for me at the end as well…. Am I doing it wrong? No, I've won awards. It really depends on what type of writer you are, as Charles Deemer states at his site. Need to get back there, as I have a long overdue blog entry pending on my own site. That you can't get to from here….

    Muahahahah!!!

  5. Sue says:

    Okay, here’s mine. What am I doing wrong?

    A loner cat burglar is trapped after she breaks into a killer’s home and he discovers her identity. If she doesn’t learn how to open her heart and trust– her actions will be in vain.

    Help!!!

    • Lucy V Hay says:

      Hi Sue, it’s interesting up to this bit:

      “If she doesn’t learn how to open her heart and trust – her actions will be in vain.”

      These are very familiar phrases, clichés TBH. They tell us very little about the plot and sound as if you’re describing *around* the story, which is a common mistake with loglines. Focus in on WHAT HAPPENS, most writers concentrate too much on the characters but generally at grass roots level it’s the story concept industry pros are interested in first, character comes *after* that. Hope that helps.

      I’m sorry but I can’t enter into further dialogue re: any more loglines. For anyone else struggling with their logline or feel they need more info, there’s free help available via the bundle in The B2W Required Reading List dedicated to loglines (www.bang2write.com/resource) or, if you want, my book “Writing And Selling Thriller Screenplays” breaks down all the components of a great high concept logline. Available from Kamera Books’ Creative Essentials range, bookshops or via Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00EZ45CIC

  6. joe sixpak says:

    so what is a strapline then

  7. Megan says:

    Can tagline be posed as a question to hook the reader? I thought I’ve seen some written like that.

    For example:

    “You’ve heard about the Knight saving the Princess. Maybe you’ve even heard about the Knight being saved BY the Princess. But what if the Knight WAS the Princess?”

    I’ve heard before that an open ended question can prompt the readers to go further into the series bible to see how this question could be answered. May I get your thoughts on this, Lucy?

    Thanks!

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