Reader Question: How important is a logline in a query letter?

You may have already tackled this somewhere, but what are some tips for effective and engaging query letters/emails. Besides of course a great Log Line…

This from Earl.

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In this day and age where email has essentially replaced formal query letters via snail mail, the logline is it. That’s all agencies or managers care to see. If your logline doesn’t catch their fancy, they won’t request your script.

Will some writer come along and prove me wrong by starting off their email with a supremely clever first line? Perhaps. But if you really want to make the best use of your time, come up with a great story concept, one that naturally lends itself to a great logline.

Here are two examples of the value of a killer logline. The first I’ve referenced a number of times before. Screenwriter Seth Lochhead, who lives in Vancouver, Canada, wrote a spec script. This is how he got his script into Hollywood:

He sent out 400 emails to people in the business: “A lot were one-sentence emails. A girl is trained to be an assassin; would you like to read my script.”

One-sentence email consisting of the logline and nothing else. That not only resulted in him getting a manager (Circle of Confusion), it also led to his movie getting produce: “Hanna”.

Then there’s this anecdote:

From Daily Variety last week:

Fox has tapped Nimrod Antal (“Vacancy”) to direct “Predators” for Robert Rodriguez, who will produce through his Troublemaker Studios.The project’s scheduled for a July 7, 2010 release. It represents the fifth iteration of the franchise after the original “Predator,” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, in 1987, “Predator 2″ (1990); “Alien vs. Predator” (2004); and “Alien vs. Predator: Requiem” (2007).

Lawrence Gordon, who produced K-9, also produced the original Predator. He told me an interesting story about that movie. It was based on a spec script by two brothers, Jim Thomas & John Thomas. Evidently the script went around town and every studio passed. But Larry used to have his assistants accumulate a list of all the scripts that had been out on the previous weekend read, keying in on each screenplay’s logline, even on projects that had been passed on.

And that’s precisely what happened with Predator: He read the logline — “A team of commandos, on a mission in a Central American jungle, find themselves hunted by an extra-terrestrial warrior” — and said, “That’s a movie.”

So he met with the Thomas brothers, secured the script, and voila — here we are 22 years and 4 movies later, and the franchise is being tapped again.

All because of a great logline.

This really simplifies matters: (A) Come up with a great story concept. (B) Work that up into a great logline. © Write a great script. (D) Email query managers and agents leading with your great logline. (E) Get representation. (F) Sell script.

And just to completely hammer home this point, here is a quote from one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood today: Terry Rossio who with writing partner Ted Elliott has screenwriting credits that include Aladdin, The Mask of Zorro, Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean and many more.

“Most aspiring screenwriters simply don’t spend enough time choosing their concept. It’s by far the most common mistake I see in spec scripts. The writer has lost the race right from the gate. Months — sometimes years — are lost trying to elevate a film idea that by its nature probably had no hope of ever becoming a movie.”

So, Earl, please understand, I’m not dancing around your question. The simple fact is the logline is the single most important aspect of any query letter. And to have a great logline, you have to have a great underlying story concept.

UPDATE: GITS readers, I can tell we’re going to get several questions on this subject as we’ve already had a couple within minutes of the post going live. I am happy to give my opinion, but in all honesty I’ve never had to write a query letter. So while my take is more from what I know in dealing with agents and managers, it would be helpful if those of you who have emailed queries before would go to comments and provide your insight. Thanks!

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[Originally posted September 16, 2011]

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