As we near Saturday, when I’ll contact all 250 writers who made it to the next round of my contest, I find myself emotionally exhausted. I’ve read so many stories from writers who have given up everything for this craft. Some have moved from other countries. Some have health problems so severe, they can’t leave their beds. Some are weeks from being kicked out of their apartments. A few are even homeless.

I wish I could make every one of those writers’ dreams come true. But the reality is, I’m not letting screenplays into this contest out of pity. If you didn’t bring your S-game (Script Game), your script didn’t get chosen. And as harsh as that sounds, it’s the way the industry works. If you can’t tell a good story – even in e-mail form – you’re not ready yet.

So today is about highlighting the mistakes I saw in your queries in the hopes that you never make those mistakes again. If there’s a theme to my observations, it’s this: Be professional. If there’s even a hint of sloppiness or laziness in your query, no one’s going to take you seriously. Keeping that in mind, let’s look at the ten biggest mistakes queryers made.

1) Generalities kill loglines – There were a lot of loglines where the writer didn’t give me any actual information. They wrote in vague generalities that didn’t convey what the script was about. Something like, “A mother who questions her life must combat a powerful force that threatens her very existence.” Honestly, it seemed like some of you were actively trying to say nothing. The whole point of a logline is to show what’s UNIQUE about your idea. To achieve that, you must be specific. “When a mother’s developmentally challenged son conjures up a haunting monster known as “The Babadook” from one of his books, she must battle her own sanity in order to defeat it.” That’s what I mean by specific.

2) Word-vomiting kills queries – Beware the writer who takes twenty words to say what they could’ve said in five. These writers add qualifiers and adverbs and adjectives and empty phrases to every sentence they write, making the simplest points exhausting to slog through. For example, instead of writing: “My movie is about a boxer who gets a shot at the heavyweight championship of the world,” they write: “I have a story about a boxer, the kind of man who’s kind, yet forceful when the moment requires it, embracing the challenge of a world that seems to be, but never overtly tries to be, his worst nightmare, and the way that man, my main character, struggles to achieve and eventually is able to secure, a chance to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world, in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.” STRIP. YOUR. QUERIES. OF. UNCESSARY. WORDS. PLEASE. GOD.

3) Lack of conflict in a logline is a deal-breaker – You need to convey what the main conflict in your story is. Conflict is story! It’s the problem your main character must overcome to get to the finish line. I read a lot of loglines like this: “A young man experiences a spiritual awakening when he switches from being a Christian to a Muslim.” AND???? What is the conflict that tries to impede upon this switch? Lack of conflict in a logline means the writer doesn’t know what conflict is. If that’s the case, their screenplay is guaranteed to be boring. I mean 100% of the time guaranteed. Guys, if you don’t know what conflict is, go spend the weekend googling it.

4) The words/acronyms “CIA,” “agent,” and “FBI” combined with “terrorist threat” do not, on their own, make a movie – I must’ve read 50 loglines that were some variation of, “A CIA agent goes undercover to tackle a terrorist threat in London.” Secret agents and terrorist threats are some of the most potent plot elements in the movie universe. But they’re worthless on their own. They need a unique element to team up with.

5) Trending subject matter will always have an advantage in the query department – The trend of the moment is biopics. They’re the only thing that’s selling. So I admit that when I came across a biopic, as long as the query was competently written, it got in. Remember that everybody involved in the movie-making chain is trying to sell the project to the next guy up the ladder. I know Grey Matter will have to sell the winning script to the studio at some point. And the studio is more likely to buy a genre that’s doing well at the moment.

6) Focused loglines were always the best entires – One of the easiest ways to identify strong contenders was a focused logline. Unfortunately, the far more common logline was one that started in one place and ended someplace completely different. So I’d get something like this: “A down-on-his-luck mobster trying to open his own casino joins a cooking class and falls in love with his teacher.” Whaaaattttt??? How did we go from casinos to cooking class??? I saw this a LOT and the scary thing is, the writers who made this mistake are probably reading this right now and have no idea they’re guilty of it. That’s because everything connects logically in your own head. It’s only through objectivity that we see disjointedness. Take a step back and make sure you have a FOCUSED movie idea whose beginning, middle, and end, all tie together.

7) The overly mechanical query is digital Ambien – I read a lot of queries where writers were logical and succinct and measured in their pitch… and that fucking bored me to pieces. What these writers were saying was fine. It was HOW they were saying it that was the problem. There was no life to their words, no fun, no spontaneity. I’d read stuff like: “My goal was to eliminate the passive protagonist that’s been an Achilles heel to this sub-genre and replace him with a character that embodies the ideals of the thematic construct of revenge. In doing so, I’ve achieved an energy that was missing in my earlier drafts, but which I could never pinpoint. The resulting script is one that utilizes four out of five of the story engines that drive the classic “man vs. nature” tale…” AHHHHH! KILL ME NOW!!! Writing is supposed to be FUN TO READ. Even when you’re making a serious point, there should be a relaxed easy-to-digest demeanor to your writing. This style of query 100% OF THE TIME means the script will have no voice. So these queries were the easiest to reject.

8) Beware the logline that is at war with itself – I read a lot of loglines that felt like civil wars, with words jockeying for position as opposed to working together harmoniously. These writers had the “stuff it in there” mentality that should be reserved for the condiment section at a hot dog stand, not an e-mail query. Here’s an example: “A cowardly gunfighter is at odds with his idealism and the secrets he’s kept when a rival gunsmith rides into town, looking to settle a score that will help forge the frontier line between New Mexico and California.” A logline isn’t a contest to see how many words you can include. It’s a vessel to get your idea across as simply as possible. It should flow. If it doesn’t flow, rewrite it.

9) Don’t use weird adjectives to describe your main character – Every tenth logline I’d read, I’d get something like this: “A pestered train conductor plans a heist…” “Pestered???” The character adjective should give us both the defining quality of your hero, as well as CONNECT your hero to the plot of the movie. So let’s say your script is about a train conductor who decides to rob his own train. The adjective might be: “An exemplary conductor is forced by his wife to rob his own train after losing his family’s life savings.” I don’t love this logline but at least the adjective connects with the plot. This is a conductor who’s built his career on trust. He’s the last one you’d think would rob his own train.

10) Avoid the cliché opening-page overly-poetic description – Whenever I was on the fence about a query, I’d pop open the script and read the first few lines. If the overly poetic description opener made an appearance, it was bye-bye scripty. What is the “overly poetic description opener?” It’s when a writer who’s clearly uncomfortable with poetic descriptions starts their script with an overly clunky poetic description: “The sun-dappered late-afternoon light plays tic-tac-toe with the suburban rooftops.” No. Just no. Look, if describing an image in a poetic manner isn’t your forte, start with something else – an action, a mystery, your main character speaking. But if you dapper any suburban rooftops, goddammit I’m shutting you down, son.

If I could give writers one piece of advice when it comes to querying, it’d be the same advice I’d give them in regards to screenwriting: FOCUS. Get to the point. Convey your idea clearly. And being entertaining doesn’t hurt. It’s important to remember that you’re trying to convince a person to read something of yours BY READING SOMETHING OF YOURS. So if the short version of your writing isn’t enjoyable, there’s no way they’re going for the long version. Make your query focused and enjoyable to read, and there’s a good chance that reader will give you a shot.

  • FD

    Oh dear, we’ve exhausted Carson.

    • klmn

      Maybe he can get some sleep now.

      Maybe not. He still has to cut the 250 down to 25.

  • Bifferspice

    i understand all that, Carson, but if you don’t pick my script, my nan’s dog’s sister will never get that cataract operation, and do you really want that on your conscience?

    • Randy Williams

      Conscience? Conscience for Carson is only something you want to be at the end of an all-night Hollywood party so you can make it to the 24-hour In-n-Out Burger for breakfast.

      • Scott Crawford

        Script consultants are given a puppy to look after, and on graduation, they’re ordered to shoot it, to prove they have no feelings.

        Seriously, I couldn’t do it. Consulting that is.

        • Sebastian Cornet

          That’s some George R.R. Martin shit right there. I like it!

          • klmn

            National Lampoon, early seventies.

          • Scott Crawford

            That’s where I recognized it from! I just Googled “dog with gun to his head”.

        • E.C. Henry

          GREAT picture, don’t agree with the corrolation to script consultants though.

  • ripleyy

    Question: If you won automatic entry into the top 250, is there still a chance you won’t get in?

    Second question: Even if by some divine miracle you get into the Top 250, is there a chance you can “update” your script (ie: fixing it, basically)? Or what you send in, is locked in forever?

  • ChadStuart

    I wonder how man entrants there were overall?

    • Matthew Garry

      “PLEASE. GOD.”
      “go spend the weekend googling it.”
      “they’re worthless”
      “AHHHHH! KILL ME NOW!!!”
      “Writing is supposed to be FUN TO READ.”
      “goddammit I’m shutting you down, son.”

      I’d say a few more than he had expected when starting the contest :)

      • romer6

        That made me laugh pretty hard. :) Thanks!

  • FD

    Yes, that would be interesting to know.

  • FD

    and how womany

  • Scott Crawford

    “Look at this, guys. A mother who questions her life must combat a powerful force that threatens her very existence. Lame.”

    • Sean Reardon

      Oh, man! Based on some comments in yesterday’s discussion, posting this pic is going to piss someone off ;)

      • Scott Crawford

        Hope so!

    • scriptfeels

      any screenwriters use a trackball mouse? I never made the move, but no judgement if you use one.

      • Scott Crawford

        I’m more concerned about the shopping basket he’s using for a satellite dish.

    • Eric

      Looks like the generals are giving him a demonstration of their state of the art missile defense system…

  • Magga

    I don’t know if you made these bloglines up, Carson, but the conductor robbing the train he works on sounds interesting. Don’t know if there’s that much to rob on public trains anymore, but I kind of like the concept

    • Scott Crawford
    • Citizen M

      I also thought the concept was interesting. But I think the writer should have said the conductor was “henpecked” rather than “pestered”.

      Moral: take your time and find the right word for your logline.

      • Howie428

        Weirdly, I quite like “pestered train conductor” as a description. It feels distinctive and gives me a good sense of what the character will be like. It’s especially effective if the logline is for a comedy, because it works to describe a downtrodden but likeable comedic character.

        • klmn

          I’m the chief engineer, I’m gonna run it like Staven Cheyne

    • Midnight Luck

      Freudian for sure.
      Has a beautiful ring to it.

  • GoIrish


  • r.w. hahn

    Title: 250
    Genre: Psychological Thriller/Suspense
    Logline: A script blogger holds a screenwriting contest to choose two hundred and fifty scripts and find the one gem he could sell as a movie, but as he slogs through the query letters he must battle to hang on to his own sanity when he realizes he cannot save the writers from their own demise.

    • Scott Crawford

      Too wordy. PASS!!!

      (Actually, it’s a pretty strong example of a logline. Well done.).

      • r.w. hahn

        Gracias Scott..HA!

      • klmn

        There are a number of clauses in that sentence. Too many. It would be more readable to split it up.

        Is the “one sentence rule” all that important?

        • Scott Crawford

          The more important rule is keep it short. 25 words or fewer is best because it fits on two lines at the top of a coverage report. More than 30-something words and you’re describing the plot too much.

          But if breaking it into two sentences makes grammatical sense… I don’t know, some people ARE pedantic about a logline being one sentence.

          • r.w. hahn

            Well I guess you could pare it down to:
            A script blogger holds a screenwriting contest to find a gem he can sell as a movie, but reading the query letters threatens his own sanity when he realizes he cannot save the writers from their own demise.

  • leitskev

    Excellent article. I did not enter this 250 thing, but that’s very good advice as far as logs/pitches. It’s not like I come here for the cheap drinks!

    • Scott Crawford

      I didn’t enter either, but this advice is timeless.

  • Randy Williams

    “The sun-dappered late-afternoon light plays tic-tac-toe with the suburban rooftops.” No. Just no.”

    This made me laugh.

    If there’s one on the list I’m most likely guilty of in my SS250 query, it’s #8.
    “Beware the logline that is at war with itself.” We all bring to our writing aspects of ourselves. I’m always at war with myself in some way and know I bring that to my writing and have been trying to remedy that.

    Can’t wait for Saturday to congratulate some here!

    • GoIrish

      Is he posting a list of the top 250? Above he says he is contacting them all.

      • Randy Williams

        Yeah, but I would think those making it would shout it from their sun-dappered late afternoon tic-tac-toed suburban rooftops.

        • klmn

          If he doesn’t post a list, maybe we should start a thread – one thread – where everyone can brag, or cry, or whatever, about how they’ve done.

          If they so choose.

          • GoIrish

            Gotta say, I’m feeling pretty confident about my zombie/time travel biopic. Think I may get a jumpstart on that thread.

      • Howie428

        Hopefully it’ll turn out well, but I can see this process of contacting the people that made it through being quite awkward. It might make sense for Carson to declare now that if he doesn’t hear back from you in 3 days you’re toast.

        • klmn

          He could do it in a newsletter. I don’t think any of the winners would mind.

      • Magga

        I assume there are some papers to sign, about a temporary option on the script until it drops out of the contest and so on. Doesn’t make much sense to post a full list, have some people drop out, and then replace them with scripts that would therefore be considered second-tier. I’m guessing there’s a list after everyone’s signed up

    • klmn

      Isn’t the term sun dappled?

      • Citizen M

        Not if the writer is North Korean.

      • brenkilco

        It’s a very suave sun.

    • ChadStuart

      I didn’t realize it until I read this article, but I did too.

  • Scott Crawford
    • klmn

      The second one is more powerful. Cranston looks like a mean bastard there, and the background descriptors in a subtle color give it depth. And the typewriter hints at what his character does.

      In the first one, Cranston just looks like a snob.


      • Scott Crawford

        He IS holding a pen.

    • scriptfeels

      I like the second one. it always bugs me when they list different actors names above the actor in the poster. I’m pretty sure Louis C.K. isn’t hiding in that woman suit.

    • Citizen M

      The first one looks like a sophisticated murder-mystery. The second one looks like a writer under stress, which is what Trumbo is all about.

    • Caivu

      I like the second one more for the color scheme, but the title feels squashed. The smaller cast pictures also seem too packed in. That claustrophobic effect could make sense given the subject matter, but I think it could’ve been pulled off better.

    • Midnight Luck

      Second, by a mile.
      Graphically it is hands down superior.

      But the prod cos seem to be incapable of making a good poster that isn’t crammed with every dMn thing and big faces abound.*

      *sorry, getting poetic.

    • Sebastian Cornet

      2nd one for sure. Channeling some Walter White right there.

    • Howie428

      If I had to pick, I’d take the second one. In some ways these posters show a point that was discussed last week… our loglines are pitched based on the story, packaged movies are pitched based on the elements of the package. In this case the pitch screams, “We’ve got Bryan Cranston and other famous actors in our movie!” You’re not even asked to know or care what the story is actually about.

    • Will_Alexander

      I don’t like either one of them.

      I’m imagining something like a sweaty, frightened Cranston holding a stack of shuffled screenplay pages, hiding in shadows from fedora-topped G-Men who are closing in on him. May not be an image from the actual movie, but I think it’s an image that tells a story. I think it could be done in a subtle, captivating way. And it would be the kind of thing that makes me think, “That looks like something I need to check out.”

    • LaughDaily

      From a marketing POV, the 2nd one is better. Those words in the background provoke strong emotions. The alcohol and cigarette adds a nice touch too.

  • Scott Crawford

    R.I.P. John Guillermin (1925 to 2015)

    Some of my favorites:

  • Citizen M

    Excellent post, Carson. One of your best. Here’s hoping all writers take note of it.

  • scriptfeels

    Excited to see some of the loglines for the accepted Scripts. I wonder if we’re going to see a lot of reviews from the 250 on SS?

  • Midnight Luck

    Awesome post Carson.

    “If the short version of your writing isn’t enjoyable, there’s no way they’re going for the long version”


    We’ll said. To the ultimate point.

    • The Colonel

      It’s why the best version of your story should be the highlights summary you can tell to someone in 10 minutes or less. If you’re not excited, spitting it out, well . . ..

  • Sebastian Cornet

    Question about number 5, the trendy point. What if by the time the script is well polished and properly packaged biopics (or whatever else) are not trendy anymore? Or a biopic comes out and flops. Can the script still make waves if the storytelling is strong?

    • Citizen M

      Then I guess you’re SOL. But if it’s good, at least you’ll have a writing sample.

    • Scott Crawford

      So many people are writing the same stories, it always stands out when someone writes a biopic or true story. That trend will continue for some time.

    • wlubake

      You have to think through the trend. Biopics are nothing new. Just look at best picture winners over the years: Lawrence of Arabia, A Man for All Seasons, Patton, Gandhi, Amadeus, The Last Emperor, Schindler’s List, Braveheart, A Beautiful Mind, The King’s Speech and 12 Years a Slave. I’m probably even missing some. So when a proven film trend is especially hot, I think that’s when you jump.

      When it is something truly new (spins on classic fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters), you may be wise to avoid it.

      • klmn

        So, the real question is whether GLORIOUS LEADER made it into the 250.

        • Midnight Luck

          He got an extension. (they made a deal)
          He’s still working on his script. (Slaving away.)

          Almost finished.

    • Midnight Luck

      This will be a bit of a disagreement with what Carson said, but they say never to write something to follow the hot trend.
      By the time it is done, or sent out, or picked up, the trend has already changed.

  • scriptfeels

    I was looking through imdb, and I noticed that some of the summaries fell into some of the pitfalls Carson pointed out for FINISHED movies. Like this one:

    An unexplained horror occurs in a Japanese forest.

    That’s the ‘premise’ for The Forest

    What websites would people recommend to get a better ‘query’ logline versus a loose summary. The type that a spec writer should send to an agent.

    • Scott Crawford

      Lots of these online.

      A lot of people will say a logline contains all the characters, the goal, the conflict, the strategy, irony. If it did, it would be way too long. A logline NEEDS to contain just one thing – a good reason for reading the script.

      “A woman whose husband has a top secret job – one which requires her to be kept on a strictly need to know basis – is told early on in their relationship that, if she receives a text that simply says ‘run’, to drop everything and go. That day finally comes.”

      RUN starring Kerry Washington.

      • scriptfeels

        Thank you Scott! much appreciated

      • Magga

        That’s it, I’m watching that movie!

    • Howie428

      Last week I took a look through the Google listings for current movies and it seems like they are using a three sentence approach. In actual usage you very rarely see something that corresponds to our dogmatic logline.

      There is typically a “TV Guide” description, which amounts to a big picture summary, say “An astronaut is trapped by himself on Mars.” Or it’ll be the longer more descriptive thing like this from Google (Possible Spoiler for The Martian!!!)…

      “When astronauts blast off from the planet Mars, they leave behind Mark Watney (Matt Damon), presumed dead after a fierce storm. With only a meager amount of supplies, the stranded visitor must utilize his wits and spirit to find a way to survive on the hostile planet. Meanwhile, back on Earth, members of NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring him home, while his crew mates hatch their own plan for a daring rescue mission.”

      Considering what these two forms of description would be for our projects might be more helpful than the traditional logline. The TV Guide description challenges us to describe the hook, while the three sentence version has to cover the core of the story and the characters.

  • klmn

    Another good article, C.

  • Poe_Serling

    Hey Carson-

    Thanks for the Top Ten article. It’s really loaded with a ton of practical advice for crafting a new logline or rewriting an old one.

    • Malibo Jackk

      Amateurs used to day — “It only takes one to say yes.”
      The truth is it takes many.

    • brenkilco

      So assuming your friend’s spouse was typical of people in her position an exec gets excited about .1% of the original scripts he/she encounters. One in a thousand makes it through this preliminary filter. Perhaps one in ten thousand or one in fifty thousand eventually gets made. Daunting and it raises a question. Why are so many movies still so lousy?

      • Poe_Serling

        Good ?.

        My guess?

        Besides the script, there are a truckload of other factors in the whole movie-making process that could send a project racing to lousy town.

        Poor casting, bad acting, uninspired directing, low-budget constraints, shoddy special effects, etc.

        • brenkilco

          And I think at every level there are a lot of considerations besides the intrinsic quality of the material. Can we make it for a price? Is there a part for actor X? Will it appeal to teens? Can we sell it in the Asian market? Will the subject matter alone guarantee an opening weekend even if it sucks? etc. etc. etc.

    • Howie428

      I’d like to hope she then got fired for being amazingly unproductive! Chances are her boss didn’t like any of the three she picked out, so they employed her for five years to act as a glorified shredder.

      • Poe_Serling

        She never got fired. All in all, I found her to be quite a lovely person and very knowledgeable about the ins and outs of working in the film industry.

        To be honest, I wasn’t privy to any of the goings-on at the particular company and what her higher-ups were looking for in potential projects. Perhaps the owner/producer had very strict requirements (genre, cost, etc) for his upcoming production slate.

        **One final note: She never offered up the names of the recommended projects and I never asked.

    • wlubake

      I’d guess those are the blind queries. The prod co probably had IP they were developing or established writers that would immediately submit to the top of the chain. Agents might bypass that pile, etc.

      • Poe_Serling

        You could be right.

        Again, like I mentioned below, I have no ‘insider’ details on how that company goes about finding/developing/etc. new projects.

  • GYAD

    “A young man experiences a spiritual awakening when he switches from being a Christian to a Muslim.”

    If anyone’s interested, there’s a great French film called “L’Apostle” (by the marvelous Cheyenne Carron) which uses the reverse of this plot.

  • jonsanhueza

    Carson, just wondering if the 250 contestants are going to be able to submit rewrites of their scripts? Apologies if this was already answered in an earlier post.

  • jw

    I have to say, for what was supposed to be an article about querying, it did actually divert to truly being about loglines, which is again interesting. Here we are as writers tackling 100+ page screenplays, but reducing our work down to a sentence or two, and being judged on that sentence before the 100 pages of words. Part of me completely agrees with this exercise and part of me happens to think that we’re likely missing A LOT by reducing so much to so little.

    Although this is very much an industry standard and good advice, it’s also a bit tricky because of the true reality it proposes. Basically what a writer could do is create a logline that is close enough to the version of their script, but something they know every Jerry Bruckheimer of the world would salivate over, in order to get the read. Quite honestly, our country is filled with hyperbole, so it wouldn’t even exactly be a lie and then your script would make it into a contest and get read. At that point you have to have had the chops to make anything come of that, but we’re not even to that point, we’re simply talking about a single sentence to get you a read.

    The only reason I say this is so that we’re all fully aware of the logline fallacy here. We may watch a film that absolutely blows our mind and at the end as a writer, think to ourselves, “what the fuck would my logline have been for that film?” And, realistically not be able to come up with one. Does that mean the film is shit? No. In fact, according to us, the complete opposite. What about watching a film that was completely shit, but being able to easily come up with a logline for it? Yet, if the situation was reversed, and we would have looked at the logline first, we would have chosen to see the shitty film over the good (potentially).

    Here’s what I’m wondering though, with all of the energy expended on talking to the “audience” or “writers” about what NOT to do with their logline, wouldn’t it be simpler to tell them WHAT TO DO?

    Wouldn’t it be simpler to say “HERE ARE THE 5 THINGS YOU BETTER HAVE IN YOUR LOGLINE OR I’LL PUNCH YOU IN THE BOOB!”? And, then provide the audience with the type of structural empty puzzle for which they could create their own by including or excluding pieces of the puzzle that fit directly from their story?

    I feel like time spent telling people what NOT to do could be time better spent telling people what you would RATHER they do.

    • Malibo Jackk

      !.) What is the script about?
      2.) What makes it interesting and unique?
      3.) And the ML test. (What makes you think she won’t find it — boring?)

      • jw

        I’m talking more about the structure of the logline itself.

        IE: Who’s the main character, what they’re trying to achieve, what is their obstacle, and what is the ticking time bomb that makes it important?

        That is just a single example from what I am sure are many. What I would really like to see though is how Carson would construct this?

        • G.S.
        • Malibo Jackk

          The object of the logline (IMO) is to get people interested in your script. The bottom line: They really want to know three things.
          What it’s about.
          Interesting and unique.
          Will it excite an audience.

          In that regard, I would not limit myself to just one formula.
          But that’s just my opinion.

          • jw

            Malibo, can you give me an example from any scripts of yours where you’re using this structure for a logline? thanks!

          • Malibo Jackk

            You say “this” structure. Not sure what structure
            you’re referring to. Did you mean a structure that I would use?

            Let’s take a look at the structure that you mentioned above. If you use that (in the same order) you run the risk of making your logline sound stock or boring.
            You’re a writer. Don’t paint by numbers.

            Consider changing the order, if it makes it sound more interesting.
            Have the punchline come at the end of your pitch.
            (A logline should be a one or two sentence pitch. If you’ve already sold the script it can be something else. Don’t confuse the two.)

            The problem with most loglines is that the concept is not strong enough. No one wants to admit that.

            Here’s a logline from James Cameron:
            “Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic.”
            Damn, that works for me.

            Opinions will vary.
            Purest will say that’s not a logline.
            You probably won’t want to work with them anyway.

          • Magga

            Here’s the one-word pitch he wrote on the blackboard on his pitch meeting for a sequel to Alien, after which he left without saying a word (according to legend):

      • Midnight Luck

        what is up with all the hate/angst?

        I am thinking you and Grendl are secretly the same person.

        Too bad.

        I found your posts full of wit quite often.

        • Malibo Jackk

          It’s a wink.

          Look at my post below.
          The #3 ML is the same as “Will it excite an audience.”

    • klmn

      He also asked for a WYSR. So, that was another chance to impress him. And he did cop to reading the first lines of an unknown number of scripts.

      I’m curious to see what he found, beyond my selfish hopes for my own submissions.

    • Scott Crawford

      I think of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. It’s difficult to convey EVERYTHING about that movie in one logline. However, the title and a short description SHOULD make a few people want to read the script. And that’s all you need, just a few people to spread the word.

    • Magga

      This is from someone on this board, can’t remember who or when, but it went something like this:
      When (inciting incident) a (specific protagonist) must (goal) or else (stakes)

      • HRV

        Just don’t make all of your loglines follow that format or you’ll be told they all sound the same. Go figure.

      • brenkilco

        When reanimated corpses attack the living a heroic police officer must find and defeat the aliens controlling them or else the earth will be enslaved.

        Hey, it works for Plan Nine From Outer Space.

    • Midnight Luck

      My next script is 140 characters long.

      Though I’ve heard 100 is the new “normal” standard.

      So I guess I’m spending the next few months working my Ass off rewriting and editing it, so I can get it down to an appealing and acceptable length.

      I think I might lose some readers and producers with such a bloated, wordy, poetic 140.

      • jw

        100 is totally the new 140! Sorry!

        • Midnight Luck

          I keep rewriting the logline.
          I can’t nail it.
          It keeps being longer than the script.
          So much to fit in there, so complex and layered.
          I can’t seem to get the logline under two sentences.

          • jw


          • Midnight Luck


          • jw

            Maya Angelou meets Jerry Bruckheimer – there it is!

  • CCM30

    Well, because it’s not one extreme or the other.

    You have to find that middle ground of being concise while also being intriguing and compelling. It’s a Goldilocks zone you have to find yourself or swing missing in trying to do so.

    Carson is saying, in so many words, to find that middle ground. You can’t be messy and all over the place with all these words, but you can’t be too mechanical or succinct in what you have left over. It’s up to you to find that moderation between these two factors to hit that sweetspot people are loking for.

    Fun and spontaneity in your pitch doesn’t mean it has to get messy or wordy. That’s just making excuses for not being able to have an interesting logline in a small amount of words and characters.

  • CCM30

    #10 should be #1 on any script writing article.

    The amount of times amateur screenwriters start a script with description of a place we don’t know anything about and no story has happened yet, is probably an impossible to measure amount. Hell, I still do it in early drafts because I’m a scrub.

  • klmn

    I doubt if he dismissed many good to great scripts. Those are pretty rare. Still, he may have dismissed some.

  • Wijnand Krabman

    F*cking h*ll you took the loglines of the ten scripts I submitted.

  • Wijnand Krabman

    In the sun-dappered late-afternoon, a pestered train conductor has to eliminate the passive protagonist trying to open his own casino to tackle a terrorist threat in London having a spiritual awakening when he switches from being a Christian to a Muslim battle his own sanity in order to defeat it.

    • Shawn Davis

      I’d watch it…

      • Wijnand Krabman

        the challenge is now to make a good story out of it.

  • 3waystopsign

    OT: Good interview with Aaron Sorkin I came across today.

  • Scott Crawford
    • klmn

      How much did the Mamie van Doren lookalike make?

      • brenkilco

        That’s confidential.

  • Caivu



    And we’re off, starting with a film that seems to be oddly divisive, judging by reactions I’ve seen online. All I really know about this film is that it deviates heavily from the source material (I’m a huge fan of the book), Keanu Reeves apparently gives a terrible performance, and that there’s very little, if any, CGI (which if nothing else will make this a visually interesting movie). Oh, and the muscle armor. And Gary Oldman’s hair in that one part.
    “…once you’ve seen BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA,” claims the back of the DVD case, “you’ll never forget it.” Here’s hoping that’s for a good reason.

    • Kirk Diggler

      “Keanu Reeves apparently gives a terrible performance.”

      At least he wasn’t awful.

      • brenkilco

        Vampires. Whoa!

    • AstralAmerican

      Love this movie! Didn’t mind Keanu’s performance, actually.

    • Poe_Serling

      Oh, a quick reminder for others looking for an early horror fix this month…

      TCM is kicking off their Halloween schedule tomorrow night with:

      Two On A Guillotine (1965)

      “A magician”s estranged daughter must stay in his mansion for seven nights alone to inherit his fortune.”

      A so-so film, but still somewhat a curio from the ’60s. It’s a horror film produced and directed by William Conrad. Most people might remember Conrad from his TV days as Cannon and Jake and the Fat Man.

      Followed by:

      The House on Haunted Hill, The Haunting, and a couple other scarefests.

      • klmn

        The real question is will Carson review Burger King’s Halloween Burger.

        Or will he remain faithful to In ‘N Out?

      • brenkilco

        Conrad directed a couple of other not bad late cycle noirs. And he was a good tough guy character actor in movies. He was one of the Killers in the classic forties noir The Killers. But for me his greatest claim to TV fame is the fact that he was the narrator on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show.

    • charliesb
    • Midnight Luck

      What is really odd is, of all the movies you could’ve chosen, you picked this one, and at the exact same time they brought it in at a second run theater here and are playing it on the big sceen.
      What are the odds?
      I don’t think this movie has played in any theater ever, since its initial release.
      It just wasn’t that successful.
      But it sure had a ton of stars in it.

      • Caivu

        Huh. It’s even weirder because this was a last-minute substitution since I couldn’t find the intended first film on my list anywhere, but just happened to have BSD on a shelf in my house.

        I suppose now’s the right time of year for spookiness, but geez.

      • Kirk Diggler

        On a production budget of about $40 million, it did:

        Domestic: $82,522,790 38.2%+ Foreign: $133,339,902 61.8%

        for about $215 million total.

        Not at all too bad, not a massive hit, but by no means a failure. And that’s 1992 money.

        • Midnight Luck

          My only point was, that I haven’t even THOUGHT of the movie since I saw it when it came out.
          I found it quite terrible.
          I am sure many loved it.
          But it was painful, and I love GARY OLDMAN, so was expecting great things.

          So, while overall it may have made some money, it in no way was a movie that made some sort of mark, or went on to be known as anything of importance for any reason. All but forgotten I would say.

          So, from out of nowhere, it was brought up as a movie to watch today, and what do you know, it is also being dredged up and shown here on the big screen for the next week? What?

          Just a bizarre coincidence I felt, for a movie that has basically vanished, or is invisible.

          • Kirk Diggler

            Yeah, that is strange. Perhaps it’s getting a showing because Francis Ford Coppola directed it. But then they could use that excuse to give ‘Jack’ a screening, and that would be bad.

            And you are correct, it’s forgettable. I personally only remember Wynona Ryder’s heaving décolletage, not much beyond that.

            I see when you use the word successful, you are talking aesthetics. I was thinking from the Hollywood perspective (financial), hence my reply. But yes, it wasn’t successful in the grander sense.

          • Midnight Luck

            Honestly, the ONLY things I remember about it were a) Keanu’s amazingly bad stilted version of dialogue speak, and b) Gary Oldman’s long fingers and fingernails and tongue as he seemed to continually be licking them and hissing? or something? He with the very Princess Leia “Bun Hair Ears” headdress styling.? or maybe it was a cross between Leia and GLENN CLOSE in Guardians of the Galaxy or the weird hair in MARS ATTACKS. (details below)

            Just all very odd and amazingly bad.

            And yes, you are right, I was speaking about it as being unsuccessful from a creative aesthetic. Not a financial. I had no idea if it was successful in that way. I didn’t think it was, but didn’t really know.

    • brenkilco

      People who’ve never read the novel may be surprised to learn that it is epistolary. Told wholly in letters and diary entries. While this allows multiple points of view, it’s still a rather awkward style for a thriller. This is the only version of the story that occasionally mimics this device. The visuals, in camera effects and production design are as overstuffed as a Victorian drawing room and the scattershot storytelling comes second to the mise en scene, The whole thing gives me a case of visual indigestion. Hopkins is oddly over the top, Ryder just OK, but actress Sadie Frost gives a good performance. Whatever happened to her?

  • Daivon Stuckey

    You know you’re in trouble when you think you’ve done none and all of these things at the same time.

  • Midnight Luck

    I always suspected that Ari Gold, I mean Jeremy Piven, and Carson were in fact the same person.

  • Scott Chamberlain

    Great article. It can’t have been easy – and judging by all the CAPS and !!!!s, it wasn’t – to wade through god knows how many thousands of amateur submissions. Most of struggle to read any pages of the Amateur friday offerings. Thanks for sharing the insights.

    I find it funny how many posts still complain about the emphasis on loglines. The reader should just read the whole thing. The selfishness of that world view seems pretty clear against this real life example of one man searching for 250 scripts out of thousands and being confronted, time and again, with the same issues.

    I think the better view is your work doesn’t deserve to be read just because it’s written. It earns the right to be read. And because people are busy and their time is valuable it earns that right through smaller works that are necessarily treated as analogues of the script itself: query letters, loglines, 500 word summaries, the first ten pages, recommendations from trusted sources etc.

    Loglines are a tool, for writing and reading. They don’t summarise the story. They communicate the story concept. Which helps someone know whether they want to read it. So, get good at them. Otherwise you’re asking (demanding) people give your story respect and commit 3 hours of their life to reading it for no better reason than you wrote it. And you can’t complain if they say no.

  • Lucid Walk

    Is this the winning spec script recipe?
    An ironic, underdog protagonist?
    A fictional world (as in not our world, present day)?
    A goal loaded with conflict?
    High stakes if they fail (as in death or end of the world)?
    A plot that takes place in less than a week?
    And finally, subject matter that targets all audiences?

  • LaughDaily

    Here’s a good one I saw in the past.

  • S_P_1

    Rhetorical Questions

    Am I guilty of number 1 and number 7?

    When the contest was extended were there less than 250 entries, or were there far less than 250 queries worth considering?

    Did the individuals who had an automatic entry submit a script, or if they didn’t have a automatic entry would they have made it on merit alone?

    How many queries were rejected based on Carson’s personal preference for story material?

    I recently saw Black Mass and wasn’t impressed, yet Carson is proactively seeking biopics, where does that leave me?

    How do you properly put into context the success Shadow’s Below received after a negative review? Did Carson miss the boat on this one? If Carson is proactively seeking biopics what about Marlowe?

    Does Amateur Friday yield greater results? Damn Nation, The Devil’s Hammer, The Disciple Program, Where Angels Die, Rose in the Darkness, Fascination 127

    What is the actual reward the prize money or the option? If you (I) win can this be truthfully listed as a screenplay option?

    Where does ScriptShadow 250 rank among long running screenplay contest organizations?

    If you don’t place in a contest is it even possible to get noticed in an industry that’s saturated with amateur writers?

    Do I accept the results good or bad?

  • Ambrose*

    I;m glad to see you didn’t get kidnapped this Thursday, Carson.
    I laughed more (at your exasperation) in this article than I did in the last comedy script I read. No exaggeration.