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Friday, April 24, 2009

Sending out Queries

Dear Rouge Wave:

Earlier today, I called about 10 smallish, indie production companies that I researched and thought would be right for my script and asked them if they read query letters. Only one company responded in the affirmative and I think that was because she didn't really know the answer. Everyone is always saying aspiring screenwriters have to query and see how the response is. So my question is, how (why) are we supposed to send our query when they admittedly don't / won't read it? I don't want to waste my time faxing a bunch of places only for my letter to be trashed. Am I going about things the wrong way? I have lived in LA for over a year and don't have many industry connections and have to start somewhere, so any advice you have would be great!

-Flummoxed in Florida

Dear Flummoxed,

There are two routes for an aspiring screenwriter to take when querying. Querying agents and managers or querying production companies directly. Most production companies do not accept unsolicited material; but of course there are some that do. If you are wanting to send your script (ultimately, right?) to a production company and simply want to know if they'll read your query, you're doing the right thing - you just call and ask. But. You want to ask in such a way that they think gee whiz - we should definitely read this script!

So in other words, rather than calling and saying hello, do you accept queries - which leaves the door open for a quick "nope, goodbye," you want to call and introduce yourself as the writer of a great horror script (or whatever genre that production company tends to produce - please tell me you did your homework on that part) and you'd love to send it in for a read and who should you direct the query to? Sometimes the person answering the phone is an assistant or intern whose main directive is to keep random callers away from their boss. Sometimes the person answering the phone IS the boss - it depends on the company. So be very respectful when you call because you just don't know what the situation is in that particular company.

So my nutshell advice would be to research each company a bit first using IMDB Pro, the HCD Online or if you're very lucky, Studio System. Make sure that what you've written is at all a fit for this company. Second, when you call, really pitch yourself. Do it briefly but do it effectively. So for example:

Hi, my name is Melody Writesalot and I'm a writer with a great romantic comedy that I think might be a great fit for your company - are you looking for material right now? When they answer yes, say fantastic, can I send a logline and synopsis? And to whom should I direct that?

If they say no, obviously you thank them very professionally and get off the line. Keep it brief, be prepared to send a synopsis, and make sure you have targeted the production company carefully. Many writers can, do and will circumvent the phone call and just go ahead and query via email. But I personally think a phone call is a faster, more effective way to make sure you don't send an unwanted query. You can make the same inquiry via email, by the way. Almost as effective except your email can also be ignored. And yes, there are some companies that don't really want the phone calls either. You really have no way of knowing until you try. Letters can be ignored. Emails can be ignored. Phone calls can get shut down. There's no one right way and there's no guarantee. Get used to it.

Don't feel bad about the nine companies that said "no" about accepting query letters. That's the way it goes. Could be they aren't looking for new material right now. Could be they don't accept scripts or queries that don't come from an agent or manager. Rejection is the norm for writers. You have joined a grand tradition of suckage. I know how frustrating it is, believe me.

If you continue to hear "no" time after time, you may want to pursue representation instead. Now, normally, I would absolutely recommend representation as the first tack, not the second, but sometimes, smaller production companies are not super concerned with that and if they read your script, liked it and wanted to work with you, you can use an entertainment attorney or you can then get on the phone with some smaller managers and say look, I have X production company who would like to work with me and this script and I need rep.

The biggest mistake you can make is obviously sending a script that is not ready for prime-time. If you're going to pre-query via phone, have your excellent, brief, scintillating little speech down pat. Be prepared to get shut down rudely. Be prepared to be asked some questions. Be prepared to send a GREAT logline and synopsis. Be prepared to send a GREAT script.

If you have done all of the above and are still getting "no thanks" when you call, take it in stride. It's the way it goes. Just keep trying.

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