Friday, December 17, 2010

How do you tell your story in 2 seconds?

How do you entice someone with your logline?

Everyone knows the idea of the “elevator pitch”, right?  You’re stuck in an elevator, say with Steven Speilberg or Julie Taymor, or more likely, you’re at a holiday party with friends and you finally meet that director or Artistic Director of the big-fancy-theater-company who asks you what you’re working on.  How do you talk about your work (and sell your work) without it sounding like you’re a snake oil salesperson? 

Well, you have to know how to market it (be a little business savvy) and you have to write and rewrite your idea in something that could go on a website or press kit. 

I’m a big fan of being your own agent and P/R person (maybe that’s because like thousands of other playwrights, I am my own agent and P/R person), and I’ve also been a producer.  

You’ve got to be able to identify what makes your project unique and why your audience should be interested in it.  This makes two assumptions, of course--one, that your project is unique and two, that you know your audience.  Both of those questions must be answered before you can construct a good blurb about your show.

One tactic I’ve used in my writing classes, or when chatting with a playwright (or going to a reading) is taking a hard look at the logline, blurb or how they’re trying to advertise their play.  It will reveal a lot about the play itself and what story they're trying to tell—who is the play about and what are they doing?  It also reveals many faults in the script, if there are any.  And you’d be surprised how many playwrights are quite bad at writing a good blurb about a play they've been working on for years.

I’ve made it a habit to write a logline before writing anything now.  Before any synopsis or outline, before writing a scene, before doing any other actual difficult work.  I see it as creating a vision of what the show will be (transforming a vague notion into a tangible result).  The idea better be good and better be simple enough to fit into a two or three sentence blurb.  If it doesn’t, then I might be in trouble—there’s more thinking to do about the story—stories at their core are usually very simple in nature.  To achieve a simple story takes a lot of work—you have to get rid of the excess.

I’ve been having fun lately writing radio dramas.  It’s a totally different medium for me and I relish the challenge of planting visual cues in the audiences minds solely through the use of what they hear.  I’ve found it quite freeing, unleashing the inner teen-ager and therefore, the inner sci-fi/fantasy geek.  (I’ve been listening to old school radio adaptations of Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein for inspiration.)

Here are the loglines for the two different radio scripts I’ve written:

Vanishing Point(Thriller/Suspense)
After robbing an adult nightclub in Las Vegas, three women on the run take a shortcut through the Mojave Desert and find themselves lost in more ways than one.

The Adventures of Johnny Elektro Across Space-Time! “Episode 19: Attack of the Atomic Robot” (Action/Adventure)
Johnny Elektro, the bionic boy from the 1950s who has been teleported to 2050, discovers that Dr. Zero has returned and plans to use the atomic robot, Destructo, to blow up half of Pittsburgh at the robo-boxing match 4th of July Spectacular at Heinz Stadium.  Can he and Hank Hammer stop Dr. Zero in time?

What I like about these loglines is that you know the protagonists and you know their Major Dramatic Questions right after the bat.  The title, as well as the story, reveals what kind of genre we’re dealing with (even without the tag I put in).  What I don't like about the first one is the cliche "in more ways than one".  This isn't specific enough and although vague enough to pique interest, I know I can do better.

Do I need to include all of my plot points?  No.  This isn’t an outline or synopsis.  This is a teaser, a trailer, a way of enticing interest.  Will I go back and rewrite it after I finish writing the script?  Probably. In fact, I'll rewrite the logline several times before I feel it accurately tells the story and also sells the story.

Writing a logline is part of the plotting process--its as essential as writing great dialogue, great characters and all that other nitty gritty work.  It's not fun, not glamorous, but hey, most of our writing life isn't.  

So how's your logline?

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