The Unknown Screenwriter has an awesome post about perfecting the art of the elevator pitch. Now, I hate coming up with loglines and taglines are a total mystery me. Maybe it’s because I have a hard time thinking in brevity. It’s definitely a skill.
Anyway, he talks about what he calls a “compass logline” to be used as a guide as you write the script. Compass lines are intended to pique interest in your story, to make the reader go, “Holy crap! How’s that going to happen?” And then have to actually read the script to find the answer.
Here are compass lines he came up with for some notable films, along with the “what happens next?” question that each bring up:
Gladiator: When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by a corrupt prince, he fights his way back to Rome as a gladiator to seek his revenge.
The Godfather: A 1940s New York Mafia family struggles to protect their empire as leadership switches from criminal father to his war hero, non-criminal youngest son.
The Terminator: When a waitress learns that her future son will lead the resistance against murderous machines destined to rule the world she must try to survive the robot assassin sent back in time to terminate her.
Each one, when you break it down, tells you pretty much the who, what and why of each of these movies, but—and this is the kicker—not the how. These lines are in fact very succinct dramatizations of Act I in which the protagonist is introduced, flaws and all, and some indication is given as to the protag’s goals and the conflict that must arise as he or she strives to achieve them.
I know what I’m going to be working on over the weekend.