Writing Loglines

A logline is one of the most important things a filmmaker or screenwriter needs to create during pre-production of their film in order to get it made by a production company. What is a logline? If you’ve ever looked at a movie poster you’ve probably seen a logline. It is essentially that one or two line phrase slapped onto the poster to make it enticing to watch. These movie poster loglines are technically called taglines, not loglines, because they are in fact different, but they serve essentially the same purpose: sum up an entire movie in one to two sentences.

The main difference is that a logline needs to be able to persuade a bunch of producers to spend a ridiculous amount of money to make it; whereas, a tagline just needs to be persuasive enough to get people to watch it (and the poster art is more persuasive than anything written in the tagline), but for the aspiring screenwriter or filmmaker the logline is extremely important, and it is also very difficult to write.

It may only be one to two sentences long, but in those one to two sentences you have to condense your entire story into a bite size chunk without losing anything in the process. This can especially be difficult when your screenplay is complex and has subplots.

Stick to the basic elements of your story. What are the themes you are exploring? What is the major plot-line you have written? In general, what is your film about? Create a list of things and then begin to formulate your logline. Traditionally, loglines are one sentence, but you can get away with two, but make sure the sentences aren’t super long either. It has to be short and concise. Odds are, you’ll have to write several before deciding on the right one.

A couple things to keep in mind when writing a logline: the first, don’t give too much away in your logline. The idea is to give an enticing hook into what the story is about, but not to spoil it. Leave the producers (or whoever is reading your logline) wanting more. Second, don’t be generic. What I mean is, don’t write something like, “Jurassic Park meets Rear Window set in 2022, and chaos ensues”. Sometimes, it can be good to mention films your film is like, but you have to be careful. On the one hand, mentioning films in your logline will let the producers know if your script is marketable, but it could also show them it isn’t anything special. Choose wisely.

The idea behind a logline is to get people to help make your film, so it is crucial to take your time. A sloppy logline could be the difference between your film getting made or your film being filed away.

Learning by Doing

A lot of industry jobs require you to know specific programs. This is true for even entry level jobs in the industry. Some programs include Final Cut Pro, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere, Adobe…let’s just say every Adobe program there is, plus some other lesser known programs. Now, there are internships you can try and get which will give you the skills you need for these programs, but in my experience sometimes these internships want you to have a working knowledge already of these programs before you apply. Knowing a specific program or two is very beneficial (and crucial) if you want to break into the industry.

Learning a new program can be very daunting. Going into it you may think that it’s impossible. The best thing, however, of learning a new program is that the best way to learn is to just use it. Online tutorials can give you somewhat of a foundation to build off of, but sometimes these tutorials just make you more confused than before. I think that online tutorials are better for when you already have basic grasp of a program and just need a little push in the right direction.

So, let’s say you want to learn Final Cut Pro editing software, but you have no idea what you’re doing. Perhaps you’ve only used IMovie, or other consumer grade editing software. Fret not! Once you get the program (Final Cut Pro is a one and done deal. Adobe you have to subscribe monthly), import some footage. Anything. Film the trees in your backyard, or Great Grandpappy’s 100th birthday bash. Just get footage you can work with. Once you import it, which should be pretty straightforward since it works the same on most software, then you can learn the program. You may have to look up how to get your footage into the timeline, but after that, it’s up to you. (Well not really, you can always look up how to do things on Google.)

You will slowly, but surely, start to pick up how to use the program, and rely less and less on online tutorials. Learning by doing. One great thing about this method is that you don’t necessarily need that internship to teach you these skills. You have the power to teach yourself and put it on your resume that you have a working knowledge of a program. I should mention, however, that knowledge of a program doesn’t guarantee you a job at all, but it’s a good start. Hard work, experience, networking, etc. These are things that will help you land that job. Just keep on keeping on!

The Power of Silence

Have you ever seen a film where the characters just talk…too much? I know I have, and it can get on your nerves. It can be most annoying when characters just start saying the most obvious things. I think that this can be a challenge for many first time filmmakers and screenwriters. They try to tell the audience too much instead of simply just showing them.

I believe that there can be a healthy balance between exposition and silence. You don’t want too much of either because then the film becomes unbalanced. However, the exception to this rule could be if you’re making a silent film…you simple can’t talk in that scenario (unless you decide to use too many intertitles).

In any case, silence can be a very powerful aspect of a film. In a horror film, silence builds anxiety and can create a very tense feeling in the audience. They will be expecting some big scare (it is up to you if you want to scare them). In a drama film, silence can make the audience think a little bit more about a certain situation, or even about a character’s mindset. One film which comes to mind is Bela Tarr’s 2011 film “The Turin Horse”. There is very little dialogue in that nearly two and a half hour film, but it definitely keeps you engaged (although I will admit it is not for everyone).

Sometimes we worry that the audience won’t understand what we are trying to convey in a particular scene so we decide to explain it to them through the character’s speech, but I think we need to give our audiences more credit. I like to write my films with the thought that my audience is smart and will figure it out on their own. And if they don’t? That’s okay too. That is what art is all about; we don’t have to answer all the questions we raise.

Don’t Compromise Your Vision

Have you ever had a vision of how your film should be, but then change it drastically because others around you are pressuring for the change? It is not a pretty sight. Now, I am not saying that you shouldn’t take advice and/or suggestions about your film. I think that there can be a healthy balance between your artistic vision and the suggestions made by cast and crew members. What I am saying is this: don’t throw out your idea completely just because someone tells you to. Unless you truly like their ideas better you will come to regret your decision. The best thing you can do is film their idea and your idea and see what works in editing. You could also not take their ideas into consideration at all, but at least make it seem like you considered it.

Sometimes we have to get creative because of circumstances out of our control. It is when a person on set constantly questions your visions that things can get troublesome. It has the potential of creating a toxic environment. Take a deep breath, be polite, and stick to your vision. There must have been a reason you had that specific vision, so don’t compromise it. The more you change your film based on the ideas of others around you (unless you genuinely like those ideas better), the more your film becomes somebody else’s vision. You see this kind of thing all the time in Hollywood when producers and production companies think they know more about film-making and storytelling than directors and writers. Many filmmakers have disowned films they have made because it wasn’t truly their vision. Never find yourself in this situation if you can help it. It can be a brutal experience.

In Cold Blood (1967) – Scene Analysis

A filmmaker can employ many techniques, whilst making a film, which can have a profound effect on the audience. A film that I enjoy quite a bit, although it definitely has its shortcomings, is the 1967 crime film called “In Cold Blood”. The film itself is based on a book by Truman Capote, which in turn was based on true events. I won’t go into the specifics of the film in case you haven’t seen it, but I am going to analyze a powerful scene from the film.

You’ll see in this scene a few things which stand out. The first is the lighting. The character in this scene is Perry. He has been arrested and is awaiting the gallows during this scene as he remembers his troubled past. Notice how his face is in half shadow. This signifies an inner conflict with the character. He doesn’t want to admit that he has come from a bad place, but he knows it to be true. He doesn’t want to give in to the truth, hence a conflict within himself. The shades of grey around him are very somber and denote a melancholic atmosphere, which makes sense since he is on death row.

Another important aspect of this shot is the window to the right. There are two important aspects revolving around the window. Although, I am sure there is probably some more meaning if we dig a little deeper. In any case, the first aspect that I notice are the bars which cross up and down the window. It creates a prison like effect. This visual component not only reminds us that he is physically inside a jail, but that on some deeper, spiritual level he is also in a jail. Rather, he is trapped within himself and within his past, and all that he has done. He feels, in this moment and in the past, that he simply cannot escape from himself.

The second aspect is probably one of the most powerful aspects of the film. Notice the reflection of the rain on his face when he is talking. It makes it look like he is crying. There are moments when the reflection passes perfectly under the eye to create the illusion of giant tears. This is very important when we consider the context of the scene. He can’t bring himself to cry, but his exterior world enables us to see how he feels on the inside.

One final note: notice the camera angle and shot length. Most of this scene is just one shot fixated on Perry. I think that the director did this because he wanted us to be fully invested in every word that Perry was saying. By minimizing the edits it focuses us into the moment which we are watching. The camera angle is also peculiar. It is slightly angled up, which usually denotes that the character is powerful. In this moment you could make the argument that Perry is not powerful since he is about to die and is being punished. But consider this: maybe he is in a position of power in regards to himself. He is at least acknowledging his past and starting to come to terms with the present. Doesn’t this give him a little power on the matter?

Filmmakers have the power to show the audience the inside of a character’s mind without having to add unnecessary dialogue or voice-overs. There are so many techniques which can be used to do this. I think that this scene shows us some very interesting, and powerful ways to do so.

 

Time

Time passes us by so quickly that quite often we don’t even realize it. I was thinking about what my next article on here should be about, and I am not sure why I decided it should be about time, but I think time is a very important factor in the filmmaking process; it is a very important aspect in life as well. You think that you have all the time in the world to do things, but you blink your eyes and you’re five years older, and you wonder where the time went to. I do not live in the past, but I regularly find myself being nostalgic for times gone by; memories have the ability to transport me back in time. It is crazy to think of all the films I made a few years ago, and all the fun I had while making them. This is one of the reasons why making films are so much fun: they create memories. It is true; when you make a film you will have experiences you never thought imaginable. It is more than that, however, it is creating a vision within your head become a reality.

Last year, while making one of my short films, the day came for the “big” scene. This was to be the main scene of my film, which also had to be done in one long, continuous take, for artistic reasons. We had choreographed the whole thing out during a rehearsal beforehand, and the actors knew their lines. It was a lot of work. We were filming in a stadium style classroom at a University, and we thought we had all the time in the world to get it done. We filmed, if I can remember correctly, around four takes, but I still didn’t have the exact take I wanted, but we were running out of time. We were running out of time not because it was late, but because the room had apparently been checked out to a large event and we were effectively kicked out of my filming location!

We rushed one final take which was a disaster because, well…we were rushing the hell out of it. This whole confusion came about because of a slight oversight on our part about the checkout list for the room, and now it seemed all the hard work we had done was for naught. Luckily, one of the first takes was good enough to use, and we didn’t go back to re-shoot anything. The take I used still had an element or two about that I still don’t like, but overall it works well. There was a slight audio mix up, but I was able to fix that easily in post. There are just some visual components about it that don’t necessarily sit well with me, but I also understand I’ll be the only one noticing them.

Overall, it worked out fine. I got a useable take, and we finished the film on schedule. I am still proud of this film. However, I return to my point of time. It can run out without us realizing it. When making a film, make sure you have the time to do so, otherwise you may end up in a situation like we were. Not only in your filmmaking and artistic endeavors, but in life too. If you can be writing something, drawing something, filming something, recording something, doing anything productive at all, but choose not to because “there is always tomorrow”, reconsider that decision; time is precious, and the older we get, the shorter it becomes.

I know that, for me, I will continue to make films because of how fun it is, because of the times I get to share with like-minded people, and because of the awesome memories that come with it.

It Was a Dark and Dreary Day (Pt. 2)

The shoot started off on the wrong foot. The location was too noisy when we were going to start, so we couldn’t film right away. I turned this into a positive and had us rehearse and block the scene for an hour or two. When things had quieted down we got to work. It was slow (i.e. line feeding), but we managed for several hours and got the shots we needed. The first real hurdle we had to face was the makeup situation.

I had two people work on makeup for that scene. They were downstairs trying to make fake blood. To this day I am not sure what happened. We followed the directions and everything, but the blood just did not come out right. It was chunky in spots, but mostly had the consistency of water, and a pink color instead of dark red. It just wouldn’t work for what we needed it for. We were able to use some of it for the bullet wound on my actor, but for the squib it just wouldn’t have worked (mostly because the color was way off, we could barely even call it red!).

At the end of the day, however, this was probably a good thing. We never wound up using the blood spray device I made for a couple reasons. First off, we couldn’t stain the walls. This was an actual apartment with an actual landlord who didn’t even know we were filming there. I definitely did not want my director of photography (who lived there) to get in trouble. On top of that, the blood just wasn’t the right color. We also had never used this type of device before and it just wasn’t going to work in the space that we had. I tried everything I could to make it so we could use it. I even tried rewriting the scene. In the end, however, I just used a digital blood splatter effect that I added during the editing phase.

We got through it! We wrapped close to 5:00 p.m. and then all went out to dinner. It was a very long day with a lot of hurdles to overcome. I tried my best to turn each little mistake, each little hurdle into a positive. As a result, spirits were kept up on set and the people there believed in what we were doing every step of the way. The final scene was not nearly what I wanted. I did the best with what we had, but the final scene was less than desirable. If I could go back and do it again, I would have scouted the location way beforehand like I had originally planned to do. It was a great learning experience, however, and a great memory that I will forever cherish.

Remember, even on your most stressful days, to enjoy what you’re doing. There is going to be a lot of back breaking work, a lot of mistakes, and a lot of hurdles you’ll need to jump, but just remember why you’re doing it. I make films to tell a story, to express myself, but I also make films to have fun. If there was no fun in it, why do it at all? There were many moments that could’ve put a real damper in our work, but we turned each of these negatives into positives. Some of the most frustrating elements of that day are now some of my favorite memories. It may have been a dark and dreary day, but we sure had one hell of a blast!