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Jeff Kitchen

Jeff has taught playwriting on Broadway and screenwriting in Hollywood, with former students nominated for multiple Oscars and Emmys. A top-rated teacher, he taught for thirty years and wrote the book, Writing a Great Movie: Key Tools for Successful Screenwriting. Jeff adapted his training program into a comprehensive online apprenticeship available at

How to Get the Most Out of Paid Script Coverage

By Advice

Quality feedback on a new screenplay can be crucial to increasing its quality. A skilled objective eye can spot flaws, weak spots, and hidden strengths that you might miss. Many writers send out each new version of their script to a paid service the way one would go in for a health checkup -- it’s an x-ray of the story’s bones and a critique of how it plays. 

There are several different types of coverage, notes, and feedback you can seek out. You can have friends tell you what they think, swap scripts with other writers, hire a paid service, hire a consultant or story guru, or get industry notes from a studio, production company, or agency. 

There are also studio-facing notes in which the strengths and weaknesses of the story are ruthlessly dissected, as well as writer-facing notes that are more encouraging, working constructively to identify the weaknesses and correct them, as well as the strengths and amplify them. 

Despite the myriad of coverage options available, let's focus on how to maximize what you can get out of paid services. But first...


Why Would I Need Script Coverage?

Screenwriting is much harder and more complex than most people appreciate. Writing drama in any genre is generally considered the most elusive of all the literary disciplines.

Dramatizing a Story is Notoriously Tricky

Not only does the story have to be good but it has to work as a visual and cinematic experience, performed by actors on a soundstage or set, and it has to grip the audience consistently, with no dead spots.

Always remember that 99% of all scripts are rejected. That’s a truly astonishing number. Imagine if 99% of commercial airlines crashed because engineers couldn’t consistently make them work. Most people are not good at making scripts work, and many don’t suspect that they lack deep craft in creating effective drama. 

And just because your screenplay has all the parts it’s “supposed to have” doesn’t mean it will work. Like a paper airplane that won’t fly right or a pop song that just doesn't sound right, that special something can be devilishly elusive. Some screenplays look great on paper but fail miserably on the big screen and no one knows why. 

Read More: Tips on Receiving Notes from Producer & Entertainment Exec Jonny Paterson

Advantages of Paid Script Coverage Services

Paid coverage services have certain advantages over others -- studio notes, for example, read scripts with a mandate from their boss to find certain things or fill their production needs, so getting neutral feedback might be a challenge.

Here are a few things that set paid coverage services apart:

  • Anonymity: Being anonymous inspires more honesty
  • Neutrality: Paid services don't have a vested interest in your project, so notes tend to be a rigorous diagnostic by an experienced, neutral professional. 
  • Spotting Problems: These types of notes tend to focus on identifying problems rather than suggesting solutions. This can be quite helpful because getting a solid grasp of a problem can sometimes be half the battle. A complex script problem can be slippery and hard to pin down, but the very act of getting crystal clear on exactly what you’re wrestling with often leads to fresh clarity which can open new angles in the story. 

What You Should Know Before Getting Coverage

A Clear Understanding of a Problem Can Be Half the Battle

As you grapple with the feedback you’ve gotten, the very act of defining the specifics of the problem can shed light on potential solutions. The more clearly and specifically you can articulate a problem, the more you perceive or construct potential solutions. The old saying is that the better the question, the better the answer.

Getting Notes on Your Script Can Be Unsettling

Getting feedback on a script is not always pleasant. Not everyone has the experience that M. Night Shyamalan did when he turned in the script for The Sixth Sense. His producer told him to not change a comma and just go film it. Often notes that feel negative can be a gut punch after you’ve spent months creating, developing, constructing, and writing it. 

Feedback can be confusing, infuriating, depressing, misleading, and occasionally destructive—and it can be encouraging, constructive, clear, insightful, and deeply creative. You’ll probably encounter all of these throughout your career, and it’s good to be able to navigate the highs and lows. 

Read More: Mastering the Art of Receiving Notes with Nicholas Bogner, Lit Manager and Producer

Cultivate a Professional Attitude

Learn to temper your responses to help stay on an even keel. Not wanting to ever get bad notes is like a boxer expecting to never take a punch. And while encouraging notes are great, bear in mind the old saying that Los Angeles is the only place in the world where you can die of encouragement. Cultivate a professional attitude and work to reinforce it in everything you do. 

To have a sustained career, you need to be a good writer, but it’s also important to be consistent, reliable, and good to work with. Think about the kind of people you’d want to hire and who you wouldn’t. 

The Best Way to Take Advantage of Coverage

Treat feedback as a general diagnostic that can help you see how other people react to your story. You’ve been wrapped up in it for so long that you have no objectivity left. You’ve willed it into existence and now it’s time to see if your writing conjures your vision in other people.

Be glad to get objective honest feedback. Your mother saying she loves it isn’t useful (unless she's a professional script reader). Even if notes don’t feel right, dig into them in case they’ve stumbled onto a problem you hadn’t suspected. But also lean into the notes that seem best able to steer you in the direction that improves your script.

Just Because Notes Can Be Subjective Doesn’t Mean They’re Wrong

If you select a coverage service that you trust, then you’ll get professional insight into what makes your script tick and how it plays in the world. Obviously, each reader is subjective, but they work hard to give your script an even read and evaluate it on its merits rather than on their personal tastes. But if a number of different readers hit on the same perceived weakness or flaw, then it’s not subjective. 

Each person will react to notes in their own way, but ultimately you pay for a practiced eye to give you their impression of how your story plays, and what they think are its strengths and weaknesses. It’s your responsibility to evaluate their feedback and make the best use of it. It’s your script, so take what you need. But be aware that notes with which you don’t agree can also contain dynamic insights. 

Some People Want Feedback, But Don’t Care If You Like Their Script

There's a story about an A-list writer who, if you read his script, only wanted you to recount back to him the story you just read. He didn’t care whether you liked it or not and he didn’t want any notes from you. All he wanted to know is if you experienced the story that he worked so hard to get down on paper.

Ed Solomon Has a Cool Take on Script Coverage

The screenwriter of Men in Black, Ed Solomon, is fascinated with how readers can misinterpret a story, describing this as a wonderful journey of discovery. What the readers “see” might be better than what you wrote, or can trigger new avenues or possibilities that improve the story, like a “happy accident.” He says if you can dance with their fortuitous ideas instead of clinging to your ego, then you can rethink how you’re telling the story.

How to Incorporate Notes into Your Script

Obviously, the more craft you have as a dramatist, the more effectively you’ll be able to utilize good feedback to make your screenplay work. A major league pitcher getting feedback from a top-level coach can incorporate that idea much more substantially than a little league pitcher can. 

Disruption Can Be a Game Changer in a Good Way

Allow yourself to be derailed here and there, to let a disruptive idea get inside your thought process and shake things up. It can be hard to get out of your own storytelling rut and see things outside your own perspective. Sometimes a hard kick is required to change gears and you should welcome it now and then.

You Can Experiment with Alternate Ideas Without Committing to Them

Work with the outline of your script as you contemplate changes. Print an extra copy of your screenplay’s skeleton and play with it. And because it’s an extra copy, you can experiment quite freely. If it doesn’t end up working, then just chuck it. Play, try new things, get in trouble, and explore. Be willing to adjust the bones of your script.

Make tentative choices and see where they might take you. Feel your way through new possibilities. Let the notes serve as a creative muse, as a catalyst that might trigger new ideas or fresh insight. 

How to Deal with Conflicting Notes

People’s opinions can vary wildly. Think about a movie that you consider to be genius, but others hate with a passion—or vice versa. Some people will “get” your story more than others. Also bear in mind that readers have different specialized skills, so they’ll notice different things in your script.

Imagine that you have a medical ailment and visit different specialists and alternative healers. You might get a variety of opinions, with people saying the cause is your diet, your hormones, your chi, your gut, your exercise routine, or your spinal alignment—and they might all be right. As a writer, you want to improve all the aspects of your story. 

Try to Gain Insight That Can Improve Your Screenplay

Remember that your main objective with feedback is to gain insight into how you can make your script better. If it didn’t need work then you wouldn’t have sent it out for opinions. So pay real attention to what they say, even if it feels wrong. Dig deep to see if they hit on a problem that you hadn’t suspected.   

Be confident about the process. Be brave enough to stare down the barrel of a gun that threatens your ideas, challenges your assumptions, and makes you rethink some of your story’s basic elements.

Learn to See the Note Beneath the Note

Learn to perceive the note beneath the note. It can often be difficult for a reader to clearly articulate a problem, especially if it’s a compound, complex problem. Dig into it and feel your way through what they’re trying to say in case they’re on to something. And even if you hate the note, take it as an opportunity to see how an objective perspective experiences your material. 

Even someone getting your story entirely wrong might open up a wildly unexpected new approach for you. Like Ed Solomon said, sometimes an offbeat interpretation will suggest a fresh path to explore. Keep a weather eye out for such fortuitous serendipity because it does happen regularly.

Stay in Close Contact with What First Electrified You About Your Story Idea

Keep in touch with your original intention for the story and follow the notes that move you toward the best version of that. But it takes work to stay connected with the original spark that drew you to the story. It’s easy to lose sight of it, and sometimes that first jolt of inspiration is the most vivid thing in the whole process, with every rewrite watering it down more and more.

Every once in a while, take some time to reconnect with the bolt of lightning that got it all started. A jagged raw story can have much more dramatic power than the refined thing it’s morphed into. Don’t let a dangerous wild animal of a story get turned into a domesticated house pet.

What Is the Process of a Typical Reader/Analyst?

When evaluating a script, a reader is going to look for three fundamental, basic things:

  • A progressing plot that gives the story an engine
  • A protagonist(s) that grow over the course of the story
  • An understanding of the genre the script is working in (as well as any clever ways in which the tropes of the genre are subverted).

This will serve as the foundation for the writer’s exploration of other areas of the script that are strong or could be improved, which can range from the script’s act structure to its marketability.

The more scripts an analyst has read, the stronger their work is. This is because they have seen so many different iterations of elements of scripts that work and do not work and can translate this information to new material. Analysts can take this context and use it to evaluate a script on its own merit, giving more informed feedback. Having a large library of scripts is a really helpful asset to have, and allows me to recognize things in screenplays that may or may not be working.

Arguably as important as generating and compiling notes and feedback is communicating it constructively. Tone is the mark of a strong analyst, as a tightrope must be walked between being sycophantic and giving genuine feedback. A lot of this comes from writing style (for instance, never use the word “unfortunately” and refer to actions that “we” should take), which is something that industry readers have to learn to adjust after giving notes facing the company they worked for instead of the reader.

Additionally, it's good for readers to start coverage on a positive note, which is something that is going to make the writer more open to the criticism that the script receives throughout the coverage. Readers try to be as specific as possible, citing micro examples of macro issues. Finally, giving suggestions on improvements can be a difficult task, as writers may reject notes if they are surprised by the suggestions presented by analysts. Readers consider many potential suggestions before putting them into the notes; even if a writer does not agree, hopefully, this can spark the change they want to make and allow the notes to be actionable in a positive way.

Why Is the Quality of Feedback All Over the Place?

It goes right back to how hard it is to create, develop, construct, and write screenplays that work. Whether it’s a goofy comedy, a brutal thriller, or an action story, it must work dramatically and visually.

Not everyone is a highly-trained script analyst, and they’re doing the best with what they know. But because these kinds of notes are diagnostic, you’re seeking an objective look at something with which you’re too involved to evaluate well.

An Expert Eye is Great, But Sometimes Any Feedback Can Work

You want a practiced eye on your script, someone who sees more than the normal person; but that’s not always easy to find. And even a crude sonar image can reveal a rich shipwreck on the ocean floor. It doesn’t have to be a state-of-the-art spectroscopic analysis to articulate your script’s problem.

Also, even people who perceive problems in your script may struggle to articulate what it is clearly. Some problems are complex with multiple factors, like the core idea is weak but still intriguing, while the structure is flawed but elusive, the characters are dynamic but lacking a certain something, and the ending is powerful but doesn’t ring true.

Beware of Charlatans Claiming Expertise

And just like people with no life experience advertising themselves as life coaches, people who only know the jargon of script readers claim to be qualified script doctors. Start with recommended entities and choose wisely to avoid grifters or charlatans.

How Useful Are Notes If They Only Point out Problems and Not Solutions?

Bear in mind that someone does not have to be an expert in plot construction, story, and character to know a bad screenplay when they see it. An 8-year-old can watch a movie and tell you it stinks, and be correct. Most doctors can tell you that you have cancer, but not many can cure it. 

Diagnosis is easier than curing, although some diagnoses are more discerning than others. But getting deeper notes is a consultation rather than feedback. If you need that, your paid service may offer that option. 

And again, clearly articulating a script’s problems can give you fresh insight and help you get a better grip on it which can make all the difference. A simple “aha” moment can sometimes be all that’s needed to catalyze a cascade of potential solutions.

Why Do Notes Keep Hitting Me in My Sore Spots?

Because your blind spots as a storyteller can coincide with your own blind spots as a person. Psychological aspects of your own personality that you need to avoid or lie to yourself about can crop up in how you tell a story. If it’s hard for you to look at a particular aspect of life, then other people might notice it in how you craft a story. 

Your Subconscious Fears Can Shape Your Writing

In the same way that a person’s fears can shape their actions and their outlook on life, their unconscious tendencies can shape the stories they tell. So, like actors, screenwriters should be able to face their fears and enter into a dialog with them, rather than bury their heads in the sand. 

When to Complain About Script Coverage and When Not To

If you dislike the notes, then you certainly have the right to complain, but it’s good to know when it’s okay to complain and when it’s not. 

When to Complain

  • If they clearly didn’t read the script
  • If they were disrespectful or derogatory
  • If they veer too far into personal taste and preference (Example: "The writing was good, but I dislike fantasy.")

When NOT to Complain

  • When they didn’t “get” what you’re going for
  • When your score is lower than you usually get
  • When they’re working hard to offer good suggestions, even if you don’t agree with them
  • When the reader isn’t specialized enough
  • When a reader doesn’t “get” a key moment because maybe it wasn’t on the page clearly
  • When notes vary because each reader brings different sensibilities and expertise

Fight for the Best Version of Your Screenplay

So learn to work with feedback, using those notes that help you improve your writing and exploring the ones that don’t feel right in case there’s something solid there. It’s very common to have blind spots about your own writing, and notoriously tricky to see it objectively. Welcome unexpected views about your script, with some misinterpretations offering accidental new options for how you shape your story. Cultivate professionalism, be brave, and train yourself to maintain an even keel. That way you evolve as a writer with whom people want to work. 

Listen to your story and see how it wants to grow and evolve, and listen to input from people whose opinions you respect. Value fresh eyes that see the obvious which you hadn’t yet noticed. And remember that the notes are not always what you want to hear, but learn to discern notes that can improve your story.

You’ll also discover strengths in your material that you hadn’t suspected and you can reinforce and amplify them to make your screenplay even better. Treat the notes as a catalyst or trigger that can launch you into the next dimension of your evolving story and you’ll tend to get the best out of them. 

Where Should You Go to Get Paid Script Coverage?

There are many paid coverage services out there and it can be difficult to find which ones not only offer constructive notes that address real problems in your script but are also worth the money.

Coverfly recently unveiled its Coverage Marketplace, which is designed to put all of the best, most trusted coverage service providers all in one place. You'll be able to see each service's unique features, like turnaround times, genre and format-specific options, and any add-ons you can get, as well as actual examples of what each coverage option looks like. Also, you can purchase coverage without ever leaving Coverfly.

Coverfly coverage marketplaceAnd, here's a great added benefit for those of you who are Coverfly members -- getting strong scores from these Coverfly-qualifying coverage services will have a positive impact on your Coverfly rank, which will help maximize your exposure to industry professionals.


How to Transition Into the Pro Screenwriting World

By Advice

Making the transition from novice screenwriter to pro can be a real challenge -- and I'm not even talking about breaking in and the whole gatekeeping aspect of it all. I'm talking specifically about the practical side of a burgeoning career in entertainment, from communicating with agents, managers, and executives to avoiding rookie mistakes. Getting started can be a little scary, especially without any insight

Luckily, literary manager and producer, John Zaozirny of Bellevue Productions, provided some in a series of recent tweets. He laid out four practical tips for making the transition into the professional screenwriting world, so we distilled each one to find the best takeaways from this great thread.

Work in Revision Mode

First, he says that all writers need to know how to work with Revision Mode in their screenwriting software. This allows every change in an existing script to be marked as a revision, making it easy for execs and reps to track what’s been changed. They see SO many drafts of various scripts, often separated by weeks or months, that being able to highlight what’s been rewritten is crucial. For writers, it’s an important skill to master. If you don’t already know how, you can quickly learn in a tutorial on your screenwriting software.

Become a Team Player

Second, John talks about going from being a solo writer struggling to get your work seen to being part of a professional team once you get signed. He says that change requires a philosophic and strategic adjustment because you need to align yourself with the group effort. Your representation will work with you to formulate your career strategy, and then you have to stick to the plan. 

Don’t Outsmart Yourself

It’s crucial that you adhere to that strategy and not do things on your own that you think are clever, but which are actually counter-productive. He says that, for example, sending your script off to some exec from a long-ago pitchfest or slipping it to your buddy who’s an assistant to a big producer can undo your representative’s strategic plan to make your writing feel exclusive and difficult to find. Likewise, don’t enter your script in some contest when your team is deliberately keeping your writing under wraps to make it more competitive. You think you’re being clever, but you’re really just outsmarting yourself. 

Allow Yourself to be Guided

Making a steady living as a writer in the entertainment industry is notoriously difficult and is plagued with mirages, false starts, and dead-ends. You knew enough to be able to get signed as a writer, but there’s probably still a lot you don’t know so listen to your rep. You may also have erroneous ideas about how the industry works, which can lead you astray. One of your reps’ central intentions in launching your career is to create the perception in town that you’re a rising star because that makes people sit up and notice. It creates heat, and played right, can help catapult you into the realm of sought-after writers. Let them guide you -- let them work their magic. 

The Fins on Your Rocket

A rocket without fins will fly wildly and crash. The fins keep it on track and fly straight. You are that rocket engine but it’s equally important to let your representative be the fins on your rocket. You need to understand how to let them help you, and how to be a conscientious, intelligent member of the team. In NASA, all the engineers, scientists, and astronauts work together on the mission. They’re all central to the process and they’re all working hard to do everything properly and at their top level. Let your reps do their job and be good at yours.

Don’t Make Rookie Mistakes

Focus on doing your job, consistently turning out scripts that work—one of the hardest jobs anywhere. If you have any energy left over afterward, don’t impulsively blunder into some bone-headed “career move” that might derail your reps’ game plan. Talk to your representative about everything, and don’t go off half-cocked and make rookie mistakes. Your rep will tell you what you need to learn. Don’t try to pretend to know more than you do. Your parents didn’t expect you to know how to ride a bike when you were born. Don't be a know-it-all. Keep it simple, be professional, learn as you go, and work hard to do things right. 

Communication is Mission-Critical

Communication is obviously important, and most people in every walk of life fail at it. In fact, it’s standard knowledge among experts that most communication is miscommunication. People get things wrong constantly, and it takes extreme deliberate discipline and focus to consistently communicate clearly and effectively. Top-performing executives the world over stress clarity of communication as one of their absolute central pillars, saying that each person must be 100% responsible for communicating reliably and effectively. A true professional listens completely, then thinks and communicates clearly, making sure they’re understood.

Talk to Your Management Team Constantly

Your representative wants more information from you rather than less. Don’t assume you’re overburdening them. Err on the side of telling too much. Email your rep after every meeting to tell (briefly) how it went and what got discussed. Then they can follow up and see who your fans are—and who you’re a fan of. Like your lawyer, your reps should know everything, and tell them before, not after. It’s harder to set the ground rules after you’ve, say, pitched someone who is bad to be in business with. Strive to be reliable, consistent, and collaborative, not impulsive, argumentative, and hard to manage. 

Saying No is a Crucial Skill in this Industry

John Zaozirny says this may be the hardest thing to master because rookie writers are so afraid opportunities will dry up that they’re driven to say Yes to everything. Even some veteran writers never get that fear out of their system, he says. But the industry is so harsh that it’s critical to say Yes only to those things that make sense for you. And not only does it have to hit your sweet spot, but you need to make sure you have the bandwidth to complete the quality work on the timetable that the opportunity requires. Being able to professionally evaluate how much work and time is really involved to turn out solid product is vitally important.

Executives Respect a Writer Who Says No

A writer who says No has a strong sense of what they want to work on and what they can do well. In an arena where people will say and do anything to get ahead, execs respect a solid writer who stands firm. John says that not every job has to be a perfect fit, but if you’re seriously considering it, then do the math and calculate whether it’s worth your time, effort, and focus. Like bidding on a construction job—if you miscalculate and bid too low then you end up doing way more work for the same money, so the job is a big loss. Be brutally honest with the numbers before you leap into something that’s more than you can manage.

Four Questions With Which to Assess Writing Opportunities

John says that he tends to ask his clients these questions when evaluating a potential job.

  1. Is this something you’re passionate about?
  2. Are the people involved worth working with?
  3. Is the (potential) money worth it?
  4. What are the odds this will get produced?

Saying No Can Be Terrifying

If you’re being offered paid work for a project that checks some of your boxes but doesn’t feel like a good fit, then saying No can be really scary. But, John says, “Just like in dating, saying no to the mediocre is all about saving space in your life so you can say Yes to something amazing.”

Be Professional, Savvy, and Reliable

In spite of what you might hear, the industry is starving for writers who are the complete package. People who can consistently and reliably deliver quality writing are extremely rare and are sought after, and people like that who are professional and a pleasure to work with are gold. So do a brutally honest self-check about the ways in which you can sabotage your own success and rigorously keep that troublemaker at bay. Being professional means you bring your best self all the time. Think about what you’d want if you’re hiring for an important position and work hard to be that solid and reliable. 

Model Yourself on Someone Extraordinary

Study the biography of an extraordinarily successful person that you look up to. See how fiercely intelligent, well-disciplined, visionary, and driven they are and draw inspiration from that. Look at how they use their critical thinking skills to cut through muddled thinking and obstacles. Use them as a role model, as a way to forge your own professional behavior and thinking as you navigate your career. “Character is the governing element in life, and is above genius.” George Saunders

Decision and Action in the Face of Crisis Reveals True Character

As a dramatist you know that decision and action in the face of crisis reveals the true character, stripping the mask away. People who stand up well under pressure are rare and sought-after. Show up for yourself and your team in the crucial moments. A great compliment among sailors is, “He’s a good man in a storm.” Turn yourself into that person and do your best work, and you can go far. 

Join us on Friday, November 12th for a FREE live event with literary agent David Boxerbaum!

Jeff Kitchen has taught thousands of writers from Broadway to Hollywood in the craft of the dramatist, with former students nominated for multiple Oscars and Emmy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Jeff is the author of the bestselling book, Writing a Great Movie: Key Tools for Successful Screenwriting. He runs a two-year training program for writers at 


How to Write an Impactful Logline

By Advice

People struggle to craft a logline for some of the same reasons that they struggle to make a script work. 98% of all scripts submitted in film, TV, and stage do not work, so the mechanics of how scripts work are not well understood. Not only is dramatic writing considerably harder than most people think it is, but writing a script is radically different from writing a novel. The underlying storytelling is much the same, of course, but that story must be translated into actions that can be performed by actors and which will grip an audience.

A script is a raw blueprint for a theatrical performance, whether a movie, TV show, or stage play. Even though the actors only interact with each other on stage and not the audience, this indirect form of storytelling, done properly, keeps the audience on the edge of their seats wondering what happens next. This dramatic tension is the necessary ingredient, an indication that a story is working dramatically.

And with that, let’s dive into nine ways to writer a killer logline.

Table of Contents

The More Craft You Have as a Writer, the Better Your Loglines Will Be

So, the fact is that the more you understand the deep mechanics of how to make a script work, the better you’ll be at crafting good loglines. It’s the same tools and techniques. If, for instance, you’re a master homebuilder, then you’ll also be great at building a front door. Loglines focus on a story’s central conflict, as does a powerful tool for plot construction that utilizes logic to pull all a story’s diverse elements together into one coherent whole by focusing on its core conflict.

Focus on Your Story’s Core Conflict

Conflict is central to drama, or more specifically, unresolved conflict, because the audience is rooting for the protagonist to overcome the antagonist, and cares how it turns out. It’s essentially two boxers in a ring in a fight to the finish. The oldest Greek theater was just two actors onstage, and your plot needs to work at that level—two dogs fighting over a bone. And this is true for any genre. There’s just as much conflict in Liar Liar as in Silence of the Lambs, even though they’re quite different.
A simple technique for isolating the central conflict in a developing story is to look at the three-quarters point in the story where the final showdown occurs. What action by the protagonist touches off the fight to the finish? If this doesn’t exist, then you should create it because we want our protagonist to be proactive. Then look near the end of Act I where there should be some kind of conflict between the protagonist and antagonist, but not a fight to the finish. This sets up a potential fight, which will build to a fight to the finish before the end of the story. You’d want to know what action by the protagonist sets up this potential fight.

Conflict in Training Day

In Training Day, it’s when Jake (Ethan Hawke) challenges Alonzo (Denzel Washington) on the side of the highway about robbing the money from the Sandman’s wife with the fake search warrant. They do fight, but it doesn’t erupt into a knockdown-dragout fight, and you can see that these two will go at it before the story is over. By isolating these two central actions (and creating them if they don’t exist), you identify the story’s central conflict, which is crucial to making the plot work and to writing a good logline.

Make Sure the Stakes Are High

Now make sure the stakes are high enough because if they’re not, then the audience doesn’t care who wins. It must pass the "So What" test, and if it doesn’t, then you can turn up the amperage. Try different variables to make us care more, to make it more of a challenge, to make the consequences of failure more intense. And remember, we can get just as caught up in the fate of a goofy loner trying to woo a cheerleader in a romantic comedy as we can a retired hitman trying to save his daughter from a psycho kidnapper.

Keep It Simple

Another crucial aspect of crafting a compelling logline is focusing on just one aspect of the script, rather than presenting a confusing array of story elements. One definition of Dramatic Unity is "a single action, a single hero, and a single result.' Keep it simple. Humans are often overwhelmed with information, and people regularly misconstrue communications and interpret them according to their biases, assumptions, beliefs, habits, and mental models, so keep the focus on the absolute core of the story.

Most Communication is Miscommunication

Clarity of communication is crucial, and it is widely acknowledged that 60% of all communication is miscommunication. You see it all around you daily. To counter this tendency, be explicit and uncluttered so that your vision for your movie can be conjured in the mind of a producer or agent. If they don’t see the movie you’re describing, then you’re off to a bad start.

Tell Me the Story You Just Read

I know of an A-list screenwriter who only wants one thing when you read his latest script -- he wants you to recount to him the story that you just read. He does not want notes and he doesn’t care if you like it or not. All he wants to know is if you’re seeing the exact same story that he worked so hard to get down on paper, because if those are misaligned then he’s not communicating it clearly enough.

Is Your Story Any Good?

And of course one of the biggest factors is whether your story is good or not. Many writers try to sell substandard scripts and spend so much energy trying to turn bad grapes into good wine. As a professional writer, you must be able to evaluate the quality of your writing. You have to know the difference between quality and crap. Mere technique won’t fix that because well-structured crap is still crap.

Has your story been done a thousand times? Are the stakes low? Does it fail the "So What" test? Are you making safe choices because you don’t have the writing chops to pull off a more complex story?

Learn to recognize weak material and constantly challenge yourself as a writer. Master your craft as a dramatist and master your pure storytelling skills. Read one great script per week to build your ability to recognize quality when you see it.

Study the Best Loglines

You should also study loglines from great movies and TV shows. Steep yourself in them. Each movie listed on IMDb features its logline front and center beneath its poster and preview. Read them by the hundreds. Soak your head in them and internalize their simplicity and elegance -- their ability to present a simple yet compelling explanation of the story. Let’s look at the loglines from some top films.

A depressed suburban father in a mid-life crisis decides to turn his hectic life around after becoming infatuated with his daughter’s attractive friend.

A mentally unstable Vietnam war veteran works as a night-time taxi driver in New York City where the perceived decadence and sleaze feeds his urge for violent action, attempting to save a preadolescent prostitute in the process.

An eight-year-old troublemaker must protect his house from a pair of burglars when he is accidentally left home alone by his family during Christmas vacation.

Allied prisoners of war plan for several hundred of their number to escape from a German camp during World War II.

A seemingly indestructible android is sent from 2029 to 1984 to assassinate a waitress, whose unborn son will lead humanity in a war against the machines, while a soldier from that war is sent to protect her at all costs.

After awakening from a four-year coma, a former assassin wreaks vengeance on the team of assassins who betrayed her.

After a young man is murdered, his spirit stays behind to warn his lover of impending danger, with the help of a reluctant psychic.

A cowboy doll is profoundly threatened and jealous when a new spaceman figure supplants him as top toy in a boy’s room.

A Lion cub crown prince is tricked by a treacherous uncle into thinking he caused his father’s death and flees into exile in despair, only to learn in adulthood his identity and his responsibilities.

A paraplegic marine dispatched to the moon Pandora on a unique mission becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home.

About the Author

Jeff Kitchen has taught playwriting on Broadway and screenwriting in Hollywood, with former students nominated for multiple Oscars and Emmys. A top-rated teacher, he taught for thirty years and wrote the book, Writing a Great Movie: Key Tools for Successful Screenwriting. Jeff adapted his training program into a comprehensive online apprenticeship available on his website,