What is Your Unique Selling Point?

In advertising and marketing, they call it your USP.  Finding your Unique Selling Point is what will set your film project apart and make it stand out from all your competitors.

by Carole Dean

Heather Hale is a film and television director, screenwriter, and producer with over 60 hours of produced content, including 20 brand new episodes of the television talk show Lifestyle Magazine.  She joined me on my The Art of Film Funding Podcast to talk about her brilliant new book, Story Selling: How to Develop, Market and Pitch Your Film & TV Projects

Unique Selling Point

“What are you doing that’s fresh and different, that we haven’t seen before, that makes this film stand out?”

Heather believes a great pitch is the key to raising money for your film and it must include your USP (Unique Selling Point) to be effective.  She discussed how filmmakers can define and create their USP then maximize it to win investors and an audience. 

What is the Unique Selling Point for Filmmakers?

For filmmakers and content creators, Heather says that ideally your USP is in your log line. “Simply elegantly, and above all quickly conveying what will compel your target audience to pay to view your film or TV show.”

How Do You Find Your USP?

“It’s what’s fresh and different about your film that we haven’t seen before,” she advises. It could be your unique point of view, your unique subject matter expertise that you bring, or your frame of reference.  It could be the way you’re telling the story as there are many non-linear story telling techniques now.

“What are you doing that’s fresh and different, that we haven’t seen before, that makes this film stand out?  Think of films like This Is Us with the two parallel story lines, and even Jane the Virgin.  It’s a telenovela, but we’ve never seen anything with that kind of fun, tongue-in cheek, campy style.  Ask yourself, ‘What makes your film fresher and more relevant to today’s audience?’”

Your USP is what bonds your film to your audience and builds rapport. She offers Game of Thrones as an example.

“There’s so much social media discussion over that, because people root for it, they get emotionally engaged.  What is your point of entry that makes for rabid fans? Viral is not a business plan, you can’t make something go viral, it has to catch on.”

How to Build the Spine of Your Log Line

A simple way to build your log line, Heather suggests, is to start with the six questions journalists have used since the beginning of news to tell a story.  “Sometimes they call it the five W’s, who, what, where, when, why, and sometimes how. It’s the inverted pyramid that inherently forces you to stick to the spine of your story. So, you start with the most compelling details first before funneling down to the rest of your pitch.”

“For example, who is the main character. It’s the protagonist. It’s also who stands in his or her way, the antagonist.  Sometimes this could be a what, like an antagonistic force, but you’re always better if that is personified as a who. Next is what happens to him or her? That’s your catalyst or inciting incident.

“’What’ could also refer to what he wants or she wants.  What is the protagonist’s goal and what is the problem? What’s the conflict? What are the obstacles and stakes?  The climax is the most important what. It’s the most important moment in the script. The where and when is where the story is set, the story world, the milieu or the backdrop. That should influence all the other elements of the script.

“How does the main character overcome all that adversity? Well, there’s your plot. How does your protagonist or other characters evolve psychologically?  There’s your transformational arc. How does he or she resolve the conflict?  That’s how your story ends, which drives back to your climax. Ultimately, the why is why should we care?  That’s the theme. So, I often think the plot is what a story is about, while the theme is what the story is really about, the undercurrent.”

“Why do we care? That’s the theme. Yeah, why? Why would I watch this? Why would the protagonist put him or herself through all that? That’s the why, the driving force, the theme. And typically, your plot, and your character arc are a metaphor for that theme.”

How Important is Your Log Line to Selling Your Project?

“It’s critical.  It’s everything boiled down to that one sentence and it’s sometimes all that anyone will hear. And it’s what gets pitched over the phone, across the credenza, across conference room tables. In markets and meetings, that’s one line that people will use to default to. So, you want to be the one who’s crafted that perfectly.”

 

 

Log Lines with Irony Create a Great Sales Pitch

When watching a movie or a television show, Heather notes, viewers like to proactively add two plus two for themselves, to try to figure out the mystery, to figure out who will end up with who, second guess the plot, and the antagonist’s plan.  

“So, just as you try to make the script an engaging fun read, you want to allow the story to unfold similarly for your pitch listener. So, when the log line is an intriguing puzzle to solve, and inherent in that conflict is the juxtapositions of irony, that’s the arc that launches this inevitable climax, and it shows what the character arc is going to be.

“Irony not only is fantastic in a log line, it’s a really terrific re-writing tool, because you can work backwards and forwards from log line to script and back again, minding the collision of sub-text to explore maybe missed creative opportunities, and where you could be pushing boundaries. It would be more obvious about what the character has to learn and overcome. It would be more obvious about the contrast between characters. That irony is a really critical.”

Your Log Line is Like a Great Reduction Sauce

“I don’t know if you’re a cook or a foodie, but a reduction sauce could be a sweet sauce drizzled over a dessert or a savory gravy dolloped over protein or vegetables.

“It starts with this huge terrain of raw ingredients, like your screenplay, like your documentary, like your reality TV show. Whatever it is, you have this huge amount that is slowly boiled down over time, reducing each flavor to its core essence. And then ultimately strained into this rich, dense, fully saturated, but completely original new puree, and that’s your log line.

“So, if you see a Broadway musical or an opera, the overture reveals snippets of all the music and moods to come, and the log lines are this alluring tease. It’s a synthesis of all the essential ingredients. So, writing that log line is like a microcosm of your script. Just as editing a moving piece of content. I think reverse engineering backwards and forwards enhances both. One informs and improves the other.”

The Importance of a Great Tag Line

Tag lines are understood within the context of the title and the log line, and when they’re accompanied by key art, they give you the whole picture.  Film is a visual medium and tag lines help viewers or readers understand the whole picture in an instant.

“If you remember the Social Network, about Facebook,” Heather gave as an example, “the tag line was, ‘You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies’. That sets up what some of the conflict is in the world. I had a bunch listed in the book. Chicken Run; ‘Escape or die frying.’ That’s a pun that also shows you the stake in the film.

Tag lines just allow you to give that extra angle or that extra twist.  Heather suggests to look on IMDB at a comparable project and look below the storyline and you’ll see plot keywords and tag line. And you can click to see what are the project’s tag line.

“What were the keywords that they used and then brainstorm using other people’s tag lines. Not remotely are you cloning or stealing or using someone else’s idea, you’re just looking at different angles to push it to see what’s been explored or not explored. It can be a really rich fertile territory for brainstorming.”

 

Carole Dean is president and founder of From the Heart Productions; a 501(c)3 non-The Art of Film Funding Podcastprofit that offers the Roy W. Dean Film Grants and fiscal sponsorship for independent filmmakers. She hosts the weekly podcastThe Art of Film Fundinginterviewing those involved in all aspects of indie film productionShe is also the author of  The Art of Film Funding, 2nd Edition: Alternative Financing Concepts.  See IMDB for producing credits.

Creating a Logline

courtesy of Kathie Fong Yoneda

author of THE SCRIPT-SELLING GAME (2nd edition)

When queried by an editor, agent, producer, novelist  or exec, the experienced writer can usually summarize his/her project in just one or two sentences.  Encapsulating the essence of your story is creating a logline, a fast, effective, attention-getting selling tool for your book, movie, tv or web series project.

The easiest and most successful method I’ve used with my clients to create a logline is by starting off with a short simple sentence, then having them building upon it.

Here is an example using the film AVATAR:

Marine gets new assignment.— We know the main character is a Marine

Paraplegic Marine is sent to foreign moon on assignment. — We now know the Marine is a paraplegic and that the story takes place on a foreign moon.

Paraplegic Marine in an Avatar body is sent to a foreign moon to infiltrate a colony of aliens. — We learn that he’ll be encountering alien life and to he will be using an Avatar body to accomplish his mission, but we need to know what that mission is.

Paraplegic Marine in an Avatar body  is sent to a foreign moon to infiltrate a colony of aliens who pose a threat to Earth. — This version now tells us that the aliens could be a threat to Earth.

Paraplegic Marine in an Avatar body is sent to a foreign moon to infiltrate a colony of aliens who pose a threat to Earth, but eventually questions his mission. — The additional wording lets us know that our hero faces a moral challenge and that there is more to his assignment than initially realized. We just need to know why he questions his assignment and what will be at stake.

LOGLINE:  Paraplegic Marine in an Avatar body is dispatched to a foreign moon to infiltrate a colony of aliens who pose a threat to Earth, only to question his mission when he realizes he is being used to extract a valuable energy source  which will result in destroying the aliens and their peaceful world. — In this final version, we now have a compelling story as the hero realizes his initial assignment is bogus and that he will ultimately need to make a difficult decision as he faces a crucial crisis of consciousness by story’s end.

You will note that each successive version gains more importance and gives us:

*         a better understanding of the character,

*         knowledge about his goal

*         what challenges he will face.

From a simple sentence, use colorful, descriptive adjectives, active verbs and creative restructuring of the logline to obtain more flow, intensity and interest which will hook and entice the person hearing or reading your project.

If your project is a TV or web series, here is an example of the “simple sentence” approach for the TV show, THE MENTALIST:

Former psychic gets job at investigative bureau.

Fraudulent psychic helps the California Investigative Bureau to solve crimes.

Fraudulent psychic helps the California Investigative Bureau to help solve crimes, but has a hidden agenda of his own.

LOGLINE:  In this investigative drama series, an admittedly fraudulent psychic joins the California Investigative Bureau, using his keen observation skills and deep insights into human behavior to help the bureau solve crimes — hoping one day to ultimately solve the murders of his late wife and daughter, victims of a serial killer.

Here are three other popular film examples in different genres which started out with a simple sentence and became the following loglines:

MAMMA MIA Hotel owner prepares for daughter’s wedding

LOGLINE: In this musical-comedy, the owner of a small hotel on a Greek isle prepares for her daughter’s wedding, unaware that her daughter has invited three men from her mother’s past, hoping that one of them is her father and will walk her down the aisle.

THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL Retirees go to India

LOGLINE:  A group of British retirees are lured to India to live in what they believe is a newly restored hotel, only to discover it is far less luxurious than they thought. But as they are forced to settle in, they slowly allow the Marigold Hotel, its staff and the culture of India to charm them in the most unexpected ways.

THE KING’S SPEECH Prince is forced to become king

LOGLINE: Following the death of his father and the scandalous abdication of his brother Edward, Prince George VI, who suffers from a debilitating speech impediment, is forced to overcome his handicap to become King with the help of his wife and an unorthodox speech therapist.

Kathie can be reached at: . Copies of THE SCRIPT-SELLING GAME can be purchased at a 25% discount at:  mwp.com
Kathie-Fong-Yoneda-500pxKathie Fong Yoneda is a consultant specializing in development and marketing of live action and animated film, television, literary, and web projects. A former exec at Disney, Island Pictures, and Disney TV Animation, she has taught workshops worldwide. A partial list of clientele includes Singapore Media Academy, RAI-TV Roma, National Film School of Denmark, Women in Film/Television Atlanta, University of Hawaii, Romance Writers of America, Smithsonian Institute, Scriptfest, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Digital Media Academy Jakarta, and the Marseille, Melbourne, Roma and LA web festivals as well as several award-winning writers. Kathie is a popular jurist and panelist for many film festivals and screenwriting competitions and serves on the boards of Imago and the LAWEBFEST. She is the author of The Script-Selling Game and co-exec produced the series Beyond The Break.