Watch a bad movie and chances are good you don’t care what happens to the characters no matter what challenges they may go through. They could avoid dozens of armed assassins, survive thousands of explosions and gunshots, and escape from attackers showing multiple car crashes — and you won’t care because you on’t care about the characters.
This is the mistake “The Eternals” made in trying to show that two superheroes loved each other by showing them having sex. That’s completely pointless since watching someone have sex won’t make you feel any more emotionally bonded to them than watching an X-rated adult movie. The key to engagement is emotion.
There’s a comedy called “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil,” which is a comedy horror movie that spoofs the tropes of typical horror movies. Instead of a bunch of college kids being victims and getting killed one by one, the college kids are actually the villains, trying to kill an innocent pair of hillbillies.
This idea alone is interesting, and most log lines for movies are interesting. Where most movies fall apart is that the log line is the only interesting part of the entire movie. The execution of the story is nothing more emotionally engaging than watching a porno movie.
In “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil,” the emotion comes from a hillbilly who’s actually smart but thinks he’s a loser. To help him change, he meets a beautiful college girl but thinks he doesn’t have a chance talking to her. Then by chance, he saves her life and brings her home where he helps her recuperate. That’s where he gets to know her and reveals he’s smart despite being a hillbilly. That’s when the girl starts to realize that she saw him as a dumb hillbilly but slowly realizes he cares about her and he’s a gentle man.
That’s the real story, the emotional engagement between the hillbilly and the pretty college girl. All the killing is really just the action that drives the hillbilly and the girl closer together. Yet this emotional bonding isn’t part of any log line.
Think of any log line and it’s never about the emotional story that’s what really makes the story memorable. “Die Hard” is about one man fighting an army of terrorists alone. Yet the real story is the emotional story about how he’s trying to get back together with his wife.
“Rocky” is about a down and out boxer given the chance to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world. Yet the real story is the emotional story about how Rocky wants to prove to himself and the world that he’s not a bum.
“Star Wars” is about a farm boy who rescues a princess from a planet-killing weapon. Yet the real story is the emotional story about the farm boy learning to trust himself and believe in himself.
The reason why bad movies are awful isn’t because they didn’t have a good idea, but because they lacked the unspoken emotional story that’s the backbone of every great movie. Omit the emotional story and you’re left with lots of action, gunfire, explosions, and car crashes, but no story.
A traditional log line answers the “What” of your story such as what is your story about. The emotional log line answers the “Why” of your story such as why does it matter to the hero what happens?
Write a traditional log line that explains “What ” your story is about. Then write a second emotional log line that explains “Why” your story is important to the hero. With both a “What” log line and a “Why” (emotional) log line, you’ll be far better prepared to write a great screenplay.