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Friday, June 6, 2008

Query Letter Do's & DON'TS

I am reprinting this with permission, from a post on Done Deal, that an unnamed producer posted about what NOT to do in a query letter. It is a MOST useful list:


Since as a producer I am inundated with query letters I thought I would offer some tips. Take them for what they are worth, they are only my opinion.

1.) If you don't live in town, don't let on until after they read and liked the script that you live in New Mexico or New Jersey or wherever. An out of town client makes life tougher for the agent/manager and unless your in the top 1% of screenwriters it will hinder an agent's ability to get you a job - and him his ten percent of your fee. There is a huge bias against out of towners so try not to tip your hand. Similarly, don't tell me your in your forties, fifties or, eek!,, sixties.

2.) Tell the reader something interesting about yourself - but only if there is something interesting to say. Telling the reader you went to Yale or Harvard or UCLA appeals to another industry bias towards name brand schools. Don't tell me you went to Cal State Long Beach or some college I've never heard of before. If you have something in common with the reader, that you share a hometown, or school, or mutual friends, use it. If you have had six scripts optioned by two-bit producers, again, don't tell me. It means you have had your shot. Written a NYT best selling book? Let me know.

3.) Don't fake a referral. Ever.

4.) Don't tell me you are "auctioning off" your script. You're not. You are simply trying to get somebody to read it. Similarly, don't tell me you are "looking for a producer to partner with." Just because you have a neato name for a production company doesn't mean you have one. Finally don't send me a fake follow-up letter in hopes that I think I misplaced the script and will ask for another copy.

5.) Keep your query short.

6.) Nobody cares if you won a screenwriting contest. Sorry.

7.) Don't bother soliciting spec TV pilots. TV is driven by a writer, his career and his body of work. It is not at all like the feature business where any joker with a good script can get his foot in the door.

8.) Give me a bulletproof logline. Short and sweet.

9.) Don't send a script unless somebody requests it.

10.) If offered the chance to send in your script, sign the release form or don't. It is not a document to be negotiated. If they want to buy it, everything is then up for negotiation.

11.) Don't send coverage on your script because I will assume it was written by you.

12.) Don't tell me about how other production companies liked it. If you are emailing me that just tells me that somebody I probably know passed on it.

13.) If I don't respond to your query, that means pass.

14.) Don't list my films which you admire. IMDB is free so I'll assume you just filled in the blanks.

15.) Don't stalk me.

16.) Don't stalk me.

17.) Don't tell me you have spent the past year working on the script. This is L.A. where first drafts take twelve weeks.

18.) Don't use a goofy font. Or emoticons. Or any color other than black.

19.) Don't query for unpublished or self-published books. If you think unrepped scripts are bad...

20.) Don't let me know you are available to meet. Yeah, no **** you are available to meet...

21.) Try not to come off as obsequious and don't thank me for reading your email.

And there you have it, Wavers - straight from A horse's mouth. I'm not sure I agree with number 14; mentioning something about the producer's work also says that you have done your homework and are sending to a producer for whom you feel your script might be a match based on other work he or she has done. This guy disagrees so it's up to you. But of all the things on this list, I don't think number 14 is a deal breaker.

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Morgan McKinnon said...

Producers really think a lot of themselves.

And so should writers.

PJ McIlvaine said...

I agree with most everything save for the bit about not "thanking" for reading the e-mail. I always do that, to me that's just a sign of consideration and respect.

Anthony Peterson said...

A 12 week first draft? Maybe if you want to write "Daddy Day Care". I just watched "As It Is In Heaven" last night - its a near perfect script, a deeply moving experience - more powerful than "Shine" or "Life is Beautiful" (and thats taking nothing away from those films).

JonnyAtlas said...

"A 12 week first draft? Maybe if you want to write 'Daddy Day Care'."

I disagree, Anthony. Of the last 3 scripts I have written, the LONGEST it took me to finish a first draft was 3 and a half weeks. No, I didn't miss the 1 in 13. I meant three. And a half. From "FADE IN" to FADE OUT". Each one had anywhere from 3 weeks to a month and a half of pre-writing work (not including the varied amounts of time the ideas floated around in my head).

All while being married and holding down a 40 hr a week blue collar job.

Of course, I write REALLY fast.

Still, if you plan on ever writing on assignment, you need to be able to meet deadlines. Don't expect anyone to give you more than 3 months for a first draft. If you can't go from basic concept to finished first draft in 3 months, don't expect to get much non-spec work. Remember, someone is paying you for that time. You should have nothing better to do than get their script finished.

That said, everyone writes at different speeds. Just don't go expecting the industry to be understanding.

Screenwriter aka No Mess said...

Yeah sure, Mr. Snarky has his pet peeves (and $5,000 says he's a man- try as they might- women just aren't that rude) but the bottom line is...when it comes to correspondence, some people are uber professional and some aren't and IMO, the fact that Mr. Snarky is belaboring the point just makes him look stupid and bitchy. Furthermore, and I'd say that judging by all the abject crap out there being rammed down the throats of the American viewing public, it seems that producers such as Mr. Snarky, for all their DOs and DONT's, ain't all that picky. If Mr. Snarky was anyone of any real importance in the industry, he would have provided us with his name so we could know who NOT to send queries to, instead of hiding behind anonymity so he can still get queries. Let's see how Mr. Snarky feels when he has no decent scripts to pitch because he told the last screenwriter with a great pitch to piss off because he/she thanked him for his time. Guess what Mr. Snarky, Ari Gold/Entourage, as played by Jeremy Piven, is only cute on TV.

As the character Sybil Fawlty (Fawlty Towers) once said: "It doesn't matter Basil, there's no excuse for rudeness!"

We'll I'm sorry my first comment on Rouge Wave reads like a rant but this kinda ridiculousity just pisses me off.

Julie Gray said...

Uh - yeah okay. That was a rant. But hopefully you will comment more positively on other Rouge Wave posts and eventually earn a coveted cupcake :)