Logline, Premise, and Synopsis

A couple of days ago Fiiya submitted the following question:

Can you explain the difference between a logline, premise and synopsis?”

Sure thing, Fiiya! Thank you for your question. Here you go:

 Logline

logline premise synopsisFor the purposes of conducting business in Hollywood (selling a screenplay, pitching a TV show, negotiating distribution) a Logline is a one- or two-sentence summary of your script. If absolutely necessary, you can do three sentences, but it should be as short as possible. It is designed to concisely introduce all the important elements of your story like the main character and conflict. Here are three examples for your reference:

A man with no name and a man with a mission hunt a Mexican bandit for different reasons. – FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (Sergio Leone, 1965)

Naïve Joe Buck arrives in New York City to make his fortune as a hustler, but soon strikes up an unlikely friendship with the first scoundrel he falls prey to. – MIDNIGHT COWBOY (John Schlesinger, 1969)

A self-centered hotshot returns home for his father’s funeral and learns the family inheritance goes to an autistic brother he never knew he had. The hotshot kidnaps this older brother and drives him cross-country hoping to gain his confidence and get control of the family money. The journey reveals an unusual dimension to the brother’s autism that sparks their relationship and unlocks a dramatic childhood secret that changes everything. – RAIN MAN (Barry Levinson, 1988)

Notice how loglines do not spoil the ending. Their purpose is to hook and intrigue the viewer so they accept to read your script or watch your movie. In practical terms, think of a writer who wants to have his or her script read by an agent or producer, or a filmmaker who wants to sell the distribution rights to a studio. To convince them to read/watch it, in addition to the right connections and the ever-elusive opportunity, an amazing logline will help!

Because a strong logline can open doors, writers spend a considerable amount of time crafting the perfect logline. In fact, there’s something called high-concept that describes a movie with a unique story and high appeal to the masses. High-concept means a story that can be easily and quickly pitched because it is original and different. There are many people in Hollywood looking for high-concept loglines because they have the potential of being a great movie.

Side Note: I first understood the appeal of high-concept when I watched the trailer for the film S.W.A.T. Here’s how I can summarize the story for you: A billionaire druglord offers $ 100,000,000 (that’s a hundred million dollars) to whoever can break him out of prison. BOOM! Just like that. 15 words. You listen to that one sentence and you can imagine the possibilities. In fact, the idea was so good to me that I repeated it over and over again to friends and family convincing them to watch it. And that explains exactly why high-concept is so good. In less than a minute, I can sell you the story.  (To be honest, I don’t really remember much of what happens in the movie, but you can imagine other criminals, regular citizens, or even the police conspiring for the reward. It is brilliant.)

There’s an upcoming movie called I.Q. 83. I read its logline in a publication: “Viral breakout dumbs down population.” That’s 5 words. You know right away it’s a comedy and it’s gonna be hilarious. Think of World War Z with increasingly dumb protagonists trying to figure out what’s going on and save mankind before it’s too late.

The elegance of a high-concept idea is that it makes you kick yourself for not thinking about it first. It is an idea so brilliant that it should always have existed, but it never did.

Premise

The dictionary definition for Premise is “an assertion or preposition which forms the basis for a work or theory.” In narrative terms, including literature and filmmaking, the premise is simply the beginning of the story.

When it comes to filmmaking, a premise is not really a document used in the industry. And so it has no format. If people ask you what is the premise of your movie, most of the time, they just mean what’s the story. If they really know the meaning of the word, then they are asking about the story minus the twists in the middle and end of the movie.

Sometimes in a conversation, someone can say “plot” when they mean “premise.” The main distinction is that a plot means the entire story, unlike the premise.

Synopsis

Technically speaking, a synopsis is a summary of the story. It is different from a premise in that it would include the whole story. However, it is not uncommon to see both words used interchangeably. For instance, what’s the summary of a movie plot of the back of Blu-Rays called? Some people would say it’s the premise, while others could say it’s a synopsis.

But if you are doing business in Hollywood and someone asks for the synopsis, then they probably want you to be more detailed and explain the main twists of your script, including the end. It greatly differs from the logline because you can explain the logline in a few seconds (or two sentences). But for a synopsis you probably need a few minutes (or a few paragraphs).

Conclusion

I would say that the fine details between a synopsis and a premise are not relevant for you as a filmmaker or a writer. The logline, yes, you should read more examples and learn how to write one, if you want to work in the business.

Additionally, I also recommend you read this related article:

The difference between a screenplay outline and a treatment

Hope this article was helpful! For further questions or clarifications, feel free to use the comments section below!

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