logline, one sheet, Synopsis, trailer -


When we’re shooting a movie, we understand why the image needs to be in focus: so the audience can best see the subject. The same thought can apply to the screenplay of the story that is being shot.

Back when I was managing, I would sometimes run into writers who would claim they were completely unable to synopsize their scripts in any way. I’d ask for a logline, and they would tell me they just don’t think that way, man. The script is too involved and sprawling and intricate to boil it down to a single sentence!

Writers who think in such a way are only failing themselves. Because being able to focus and condense the story is a fundamental skillset. This especially applies to screenwriting, where the most basic version of the story (the logline) can be used on the creative side as a guiding light, and on the commercial side the logline is the tip of the spear when it comes to the pitch.

Look at the tools the audience uses to decide what movie to see. For example, they might watch a trailer. At the theater, they’re looking at one-sheets; a poster with the title, an image, and the names of the stars. At home, watching a film on streaming, they’re looking at a thumbnail image which, if clicked on, gives us a logline, and some of the one-sheet’s info.

In none of these cases are we asking the audience to watch the full movie in order to decide which movie to watch. We’re offering a condensed version with highlights and information. These are the tools the distributor uses to market the film, and thus these are the tools that producers are thinking about when they’re considering film projects – including your script.

As an exercise, pick a script that you’ve written and see how far you can break it down. Can you write a logline? Great. Can you write a one-page synopsis? Can you put together a one-sheet that does a good job of selling the movie for which the script is a blueprint? If there were to be a trailer, what would it look like? What are the “trailer moments” within this script?

The American Film Market is in full swing this week. It used to be that producers could go to AFM and raise money just on a hot one-sheet: a grabby title, a great image, a clear pitch of what the movie is. The idea of reading the screenplay in that scenario would be ludicrous.

These days, we no longer have that kind of free-wheeling wild west financing opportunities at the markets (or at least it’s rare in comparison to the past). But the fact that producers could first sell on the one-sheet should be instructive to filmmakers and writers. A project that is focused enough that the one-sheet is all we need to grab the audience is the essence of cinematic storytelling. And once we have that focus, now all the movie has to be is good.

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