Thursday, April 03, 2008

One line log lines

The log line is an old instrument for measuring the speed of a ship. A weighted piece of wood was attached to a rope (yep, the "log line"). In the rope were tied knots (one every 7 fathoms, or 42 feet) - and as the rope was unspooled, the number of knots that passed over the side of the ship were counted. And there you had it, the speed of the ship in knots. A metric, I'll have you know, still in use today -- remember Speed 2: Cruise Control? (A whopping 4 on RottenTomatoes, btb.)

Gotcha! Log lines are also one line summaries of movies and tv shows. (You didn't really think this whole post was going to be about some random nautical factoid, didja? Really?) You know what they say: if you can’t describe your story in a sentence, there’s something wrong with the story.

They're serious things, these log lines - you see them all the time on TV listings. Apparently they used to be (and who knows, maybe still are) written on the spines of scripts for easy reference. You need them to pitch your story, screenplay, movie, idea, concept, yadda, yadda, yadda. Some people even tell you to start with the log line as your story spine and take it from there. They are actually not easy to write. No, really - go ahead, try it.

Not so much? Ok, how about you try it in reverse? Let's play "Name That Movie" (as described in TV Guide):
"Popular country-western take on "Saturday Night Fever" about a good ol' boy looking for love from atop a mechanical bull in a Houston honky-tonk."

"A tyrannical fashion-magazine editor makes life hell for her new assistant in this caustically funny adaptation of a best selling novel."

"A Philly cop investigates a murder witnessed by the son of an Amish widow in a study of culture clash."

Fine. Dandy. Whatever.

Want to read some log lines with attitude? Check out ThatTVGuy, aka Richard Polito, he's got some:

“Troy” - There is a certain demographic that wanted to see Brad Pitt in a skirt.

“Mean Girls” - Lindsay Lohan plays the new girl in school who gets lured into the orbit of three high school beauties with cold hearts and great complexions, like sharks but with cell phones and credit cards.

“The Thin Red Line” - It turns out Guadacanal is not the vacation destination it was made out to be.

Polito used to write for the Marin Independent Journal - he's famous (and rightfully so, if you ask me, and even if you don't) for this twisted log line:

"Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first woman she meets, then teams up with three complete strangers to kill again."

Go ahead - name that one.

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