Logline and Synopsis:
Characteristics, Features, Requirements

Not a single festival questionnaire can do without the "synopsis" field, and not a single festival catalogue comes out without annotation to the film.
Practically all international festivals require a synopsis in English. As a rule, selectors ask you to fit in 6–7 sentences (about 300 characters). In some cases, the number of characters may increase up to 1000. When it comes to 100 characters, logline will stand for a synopsis.

It is very important to follow these requirements, since each festival publishes its own catalogues and other materials dedicated to the project, where it places information about films. Supposing that the organisation committee knows that they want to select 15 works for the competition and for the presentation of each is devoted half of the page, where you need to place both the synopsis, the shot from the film and information about the director and the crew.

When making several variants of a synopsis of various sizes, you need to keep in mind that the number of characters of the same text in English and Russian is different. Translated into English, the amount of text is reduced. If the requirements refer to the number of characters, not sentences, the characters of the English text should be counted.

Let's take a closer look at what "logline" and "synopsis" are in order to understand how to write them in better way.
Part 1

Logline

Logline is a brief summary of the film, conveying the essence of the story, its main dramatic conflict.
The basic idea, fit in one or two sentences (usually about 25 words). This is the message that filmmakers seek to convey to the viewer, and from which the festival selectors begin to get acquainted with the script or with the final film variant. And, at the same time, this is the answer to the hackneyed question: "What is the film about?"

So what does logline say?

A good logline gives an idea of the story as a whole, while it may not reveal the important twists of the plot and keep silent about the final. The intriguing final is like a nice bonus that the producer (festival expert) receives already when reading the script (watching the movie). In America, where there are about 40 thousand new scenarios appear on the market every year, they know the price of good loglines. Often there is an indication of a genre written in a logline.

Logline answers the main questions:

  1. Who is acting?
  2. Whose is that story?
  3. What's happening?
  4. What is the main intrigue?
An example of a logline to the film"The Karate Kid":

"A teenager from New Jersey (who?) moves to California and meets a martial arts master (what is happening?), who teaches him how to defend against local bullies (intrigue)"
In Hollywood, logline is created even before writing a synopsis and script to form a dramatic narrative. This is a great test for the screenwriter — the easier a good logline is formed, the more likely it is that a good script will come out.

When writing a logline on their own film, first time filmmakers often have a problem — they fail to put the idea into the supposed 25 words. Facing this problem, try to highlight the main points and concepts of your history. We'll say write now how to include them in the description properly.

The main character

The main character should always be in the foreground, it is an integral part of the story. However, you should not mention the name of the hero in the logline, unless it is known in the whole world — for example, John Lennon or John Kennedy. Otherwise, the name won't tell the reader anything. It is better to indicate his profession, social status — homeless, billionaire, architect, etc. In the case of "The Karate Kid" - this is a teenager from New Jersey.

Use well-chosen adjectives that can characterize the hero of the story in a better way. For example, conceited, ambitious official, meticulous journalist.

The main character in the film can be not one person, but a group of people. In such a case in a logline they may appear as a single hero in the logline.
As an example — the logline to the film "The Grey":

"In Alaska, a plane crashes, and the surviving passengers find themselves in a capture of a uninhabited snow desert, where only a pack of wolves brightens the landscape. People want to survive at any cost, and now they are facing a deadly fight"

Goal

The goal is an essential element of logline. It is the engine of the whole story. The goal can be both physical and psychological. From the logline to "The Karate Kid" it is clear that the hero's goal is to learn the art of martial arts in order to confront criminals.

Logline conveys the development of the story, so you need to carefully choose the words-engines. The best options are "fight," "try," "fight," "strive," etc., because they represent the purpose of the story and indicate the dramatic events.

If the author does not yet know the key goal, then you need to mark for yourself the climax of the scenario where the hero reaches the target or fails.

An obstacle. In logline there can be antagonistic power - an obstacle to the achievement of the goal set by the hero. Here you should be as concise as possible, not over weighing the text with unnecessary details. Initially, you can write a logline longer and only then squeeze it. According to the plot of the film "The Karate Kid", the hero is beaten by members of the criminal gang, as he begins to make friends with the former girlfriend of the gang leader. In the logline to the film this moment is put out of the brackets.

Important characteristics of good logline

  • Irony and intrigue;
  • The ability to convey external (events, visual aesthetics) and internal conflict (moral, psychological breakdown);
  • lack of details, small details;
  • conciseness, but without dryness;
  • lack of open moralizing, interpretations of the deep meaning of history;
  • opportunity to outline the target audience, the genre (especially important when meeting with the producer).
Practical task:

Do an experiment. Write a few variants of logline for your story and test it on friends, or better on unfamiliar people. If the story will interest 8 out of 10 people, we can assume that the goal has been achieved.
Part 2

Synopsis

Synopsis is a brief linear presentation of the concept of the film's script, its content, the essence of the dramatic conflict in a fascinating form.
In the synopsis there is a plot, turning points, a climax, a denouement. Unlike logline, the script structure of the film is already well seen in the synopsis. Despite this the author also does not open all the cards, and the reader, without losing interest, should want to see the story on the screen.
Synopsis for the film "The Karate Kid":

"In one of the schools in Los Angeles, a newcomer appears - a teenager named Daniel. He arrived from the east coast with his mother. It is not easy to make friends in a new place where you do not know anyone, and even more so in a school where a cruel band of karate guys is running.

Despite of their young age, gang members are very dangerous. They call themselves Cobras and cruelly "sting" everyone who is not pleasing to them. Daniel gets into the lists of objectionables after he meets and makes friendly relations with the former girl of Cobra's leader. Cobras beat a novice.

Daniel wants revenge and at the same time he wants to impress his new girlfriend. He appeals to the master of martial arts Miyagi with a request to teach him karate ... "

Questions answered by synopsis

The key questions the synopsis answers are similar to those that are compiled when writing a logline:

  • What is this story about?
  • Who are the main characters?
  • What are they striving for and why?
  • What obstacles stand in the way?

Synopsis size

The volume of synopsis can vary significantly — from one paragraph to several pages. It is important to understand the task, the target audience of the synopsis. As a rule, if you are going to present the work to all potentially interested people (including film festivals), then the synopsis is better to fit in 6–8 sentences. At the same time, it should be written in such a way that the reader can easily recite what they read in just a few words.

When a synopsis is written already for an interested person who is ready to spend time on several pages of text, then a brief retelling can be refused. An extended synopsis is appropriate here, which in the West is usually called a treatment. It also mentions the main characters and describe episodes of the film.
As an example here is a part of the treatment for the film "Fallout":

  1. Passengers are waiting for the train. The set is reminiscent to modern Los Angeles. Everyone except the Hero reads the LA Times. He is 20 with a little, pleasant-looking, lively. He retells a dream to a friend: he fishes on the river, catches a fish. Freud argued: id a fish is in your dream wait for something bad.

  2. Train comes up, people sit into. Pastoral landscape flashes outside the window. The hero describes his omens (red golf car, a girl in a yellow storm) before they come into view. Suddenly, the image gets lost, the passengers remain in the dark. There is a voice: "Due to technical problems, the morning show is canceled".

  3. It can be seen that the carriage managed to drive only a few meters along the gray wall. The landscape turns out to be a film. Several thousand people are crammed into an underground shelter. This is a tiny cheap copy of Los Angeles with an artificial climate and artificial trees. The atmosphere of retro-futurism, combining the idyll of the 50s with the technologies of the late 20th century. The environment is intended to mitigate the feeling of claustrophobia that occurs at the cloisters of the underground complex. But the Hero does not want to put up with what is happening. On the contrary, attracting the attention of others, he loudly protests against this artificial life. There must be better places in the world.

Synopsis Tips

  • Write in the present tense;
  • Avoid specialized expressions, "professionalisms";
  • In the short synopsis describe only the main plot;
  • Describe not only the events of the script, but also the motives of the actions of the characters.
September 15th, 2014
Text: Angelica Lashuk