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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Getting Ready Part 2

The query.

So you’ve written a screenplay and you’ve taken the time to get it covered, proofread and otherwise bullet proofed.

Now what?

That’s the question that can ruin your day. After months of hard work and some hard earned cash invested, you now have either your ticket to Hollywood or a doorstop. What do you do next?

Well time to call up your contacts in the industry and-

You don’t have any contacts. Hmm. Okay, well getting contacts should be a long term career goal of any aspiring screenwriter. Get yourself a copy of How to Make Friends and Influence People. Because that’s all a contact is, a friend who happens to work in the industry. Nothing fancy about it.

But that can take a while.

There’s contests. There are always contests. Several of my writer friends who have reps still enter contests for reasons that we’ll get to.

Want something even more pro-active? Well then it’s time to break out the query letter. Head on over to and order yourself the latest edition of the Hollywood Representation Directory or if you really have the stones for it the Hollywood Creative Directory which lists production companies.

There are phone numbers but I would really recommend query letters or emails unless you are a super duper, ninth degree phone salesman.

So what do you put in a query? Here’s a list of attention getters in order of importance.

BASED ON A BESTSELLER NOVEL (or videogame or comic book): Sounds like I’m cheating, but hey this is the top branch on the decision tree. If there’s already a proven market they will be interested. It’s rare, but if you’ve got this 800 pound gorilla on your side, use it immediately. It should be the first line in your query after Dear Whomever.

I’M A SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: You can also put “Regular Contributor to the Huffington Post/Other Top Website” or “My Blog is one of the top 25 viewed on the Web.” You have a national audience, or at least that’s what it implies. That’s brilliant. When somebody asks “who’s this clown” your potential rep/producer can provide them a link to your latest rant. Again this demonstrates that any time invested in you will not be completely wasted. Mention it in the right off the bat.

BASED ON A NOVEL: So you sold a novel but it isn’t a bestseller. That’s usually a bad sign but all is not lost. At the very least you write well enough to get paid for it. For this reason alone self publishing and vanity press is a no go. What’s the big whoop in impressing yourself? Maybe your publishing house was too small. Maybe you weren’t wise in the ways of self promotion. It’s okay. You still qualify as a professional and that should get a few parties interested. Mention this right off the bat, make sure to mention the publisher so they know it isn’t a vanity press.

BASED ON A TRUE STORY: Still a very powerful selling point. If you’re not directly involved with the incident make sure you specify that you have secured the rights and have all the signed documents (put that part towards the end of the query. You want to tell them a story not a deposition) And please, please, please make sure it’s a true story WORTH telling.

CONTEST WINNER OR FINALIST: Depending on the contest you can go deeper into the rounds. A Nicholls semi-finalist is still pretty impressive. Yes this does decrease your chances of getting a particular script produced, but it is still one of the better door openers around.

A KILLER LOGLINE: This is really the meat of your query. The logline. It’s really the screenwriter’s Swiss army knife in that it can serve so many functions both during and after writing your screenplay. To me it’s the heart of the pitch. Is your story, boiled down to just two or three sentences, really compelling, iconic and easy to visualize? Really if you have nothing else, and your logline is really, really good, someone will give your script a read.

PERTINENT EXPERIENCE: Pop quiz. Pretend you’re a junior exec and you receive two query letters, both are pitching crime thrillers. One is written by a kid working as a barista at a Starbucks in the mall. The other is by a 10 year veteran of the Detroit homicide unit. Which catches your eye all else being equal?

EDUCATION: An MFA in screenwriting from USC, UCLA or NYU is impressive. Other colleges are offering screenwriting and film studies tracks. They may not be as impressive as the big three just yet, but they still count as an accomplishment.

MISCELLANEOUS INTRIGUING FACTOIDS: Preferably related to the script. Maybe there’s some article in the NY Times that just happens to cover your subject matter or some other cosmic coincidence. Lastly of all you should include little factoids about yourself. The main point of your query should be your screenplay but you’re also trying to sell yourself. This should not take over your query but a few lines at the end to make yourself stand out can be a good thing.

The rest of the query should be devoted to your story. Expand a little bit on the logline, but don’t go overboard. Remember brevity is the soul of wit. Never more so than with a query letter.

Finally I need to stress this point…


Don’t say you met at a conference months ago if you didn’t really. Don’t say “you requested this script at such and such pitchfest” if it didn’t happen. People do keep notes on that kind of thing. My favorite lie of all time went something like this,

“I’m really a big time producer. I’m submitting this screenplay under a fake name to see what you really think of it.”

Be professional. You get marked every time you send something in. Unless you want your name to be associated with the words, “desperate” and “liar” always be straight up. Never misrepresent the facts.

After you’ve sent out your queries, time to wait. It can be a bruising process. You collect rejections or never hear back from the majority of people. But hopefully you can get enough read requests. Then the script has to do its job.


  1. Fantastic advice, Mike. I know when I first started out, I could have used these suggestions. Keep spreading the generosity! We at #scriptchat appreciate it. @jeannevb

  2. Great advice Michael. Very helpful.

    Just wondering if there'll be more parts to 'Getting Ready' ... My next blog post over the weekend is going to be about when is a script ready to send out. i.e. when is time to stop? If you're thinking of writing up more posts re getting ready - pls cld you consider this is a subject to address? Would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

    Hope all's well. mx

  3. Mina,

    Sounds like a great idea. I'll try and get something up on Friday!


  4. Awesome! Looking forward to reading it. :)

  5. My editor has a sister company who has helped me out with the pitchsheet. Now I have to wait for a studio or producer to pick my idea out of the database.
    But that can take a long time. What are my other options?

  6. TO MJ Smith,

    I assume you mean you've posted your script on a style site?

    Perfectly okay but realize that is a passive approach to getting your material out there. It doesn't yield the same results as a more active approach will.

    I will address this in a later post.



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