Query letter help

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red hawk

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I’ve never written a Query letter for a screenplay, does anyone know where I could either view one? Or does someone know what it should have in it and how it should look?

I imagine you would have your name and info on the left side right? Then a paragraph with a synopsis of your film, I’m really not sure what else other then listing why it would be a good idea to make the picture.

Any help would be great, I’ve been sitting on this script for too long. Oh, it’s Sci-fi if that matters? (those reading this, that is)
 

creativexec

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If I may quote myself from a previous article:



QUERY LETTER SUGGESTIONS

Although there are no rules to writing query letters, these are some general suggestions:


Do not be longwinded. Draft your query as if the reader has Attention Deficit Disorder. Keep your letter short and make your point quickly. The reader should fully comprehend your pitch with just a glance of the page. If the reader has to fight through countless words and paragraphs, you may lose him. Three paragraphs are enough. More than one page is too much.

Avoid silly, self-effacing, or obsequious letters. Be professional. Often, authors of comedy scripts try to pen funny letters. In some cases, it is effective. However, if the letter does not garner a chuckle, this can kill the script. Allow the pitch itself to earn the laugh. Sadly, goofy letters are often passed around the mailroom for a late afternoon chuckle before landing in the recycling bin. Or even worse, they are commemorated on the “wall of shame.”

Keep all information in the query letter pertinent. Avoid superfluity. For instance, a writer will tell an agent that she is a “grandmother of 12,” or another will say, “I have an accounting degree.” Only include what is absolutely necessary. Agents do not care if a scribe has an MBA from MichiganState. However, it makes sense to say, “I have a BA in film from….” If the writer and agent share the same alma mater, it could be helpful to drop the name of the school without being obvious. (The agent will connect the dots.)

When drafting the query include the genre, script’s title, the logline (and possibly a hybrid description like: THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS meets OUTBREAK) and a brief statement about yourself – as it relates to screenwriting. For example, include any reputable screenwriting contests you may have won. A query once stated that the writer came in 429th place in the Writer’s Digest contest. Although this may be a great achievement for the writer, it could be deemed insignificant in Hollywood. (Know the audience.) It may be best to simply omit the “429th place.” If the script did not win or was not a finalist, be vague about where the script placed. Also, if it is not a recent win, leave out specific dates or inferences to dates. (“This script won the D.W. Griffith Screenwriting Award, which he presented to me personally.”)

Do not include scenes from your screenplay in a query letter. Scenes, descriptions of your characters, action or actual dialogue can seem very unappealing when taken out of context. Screenplays deserve to be read in their entirety – as a whole.

Avoid insignificant praise. Never include readers’ positive comments. “My college film professor says it’s the best screenplay he’s read this semester.” “The local mailman said my depiction of the United States Postal Service is accurate and riveting.” “Mary Jones at Warner Brothers loves the script but says I must have an agent.” If Mary Jones loves the script, she will do everything within her power to obtain the script. (Mary Jones is politely blowing off the writer.) Occasionally, these quotes offer an unwitting sub-text that backfires on the screenwriter. Also, avoid hyperbolic descriptions of the screenplay. “It’s an action packed, thrill-a-minute character study with a romance that will break your heart.” Any kind of hype is unprofessional. It is silly for a screenwriter to praise his own work. It goes without saying that the scribe believes his “characters are riveting” and his story “important for our times.”

Do not include supplemental material. For instance: “With the hopes of enticing you to read my new screenplay, SHAME: A GIRL WITH AN STD, I have enclosed an eight-page booklet about syphilis.” The odds of the pamphlet being read are slim to none. Also, don’t send food or candy with a letter. No one in their right mind will eat food sent to them by a complete stranger.

Do not make casting suggestions (unless you are targeting an actor’s representative), do not suggest marketing concepts, and do not offer up taglines.

Proofread the letter. One would believe writers have a strong command of their language. However, query letters are often littered with misspelled words. This also includes grammar and syntax errors.

Letters should be sent to a specific person. Be sure their name is spelled correctly. Refer to the “Hollywood Creative Directory,” the Internet, or call for the correct spelling. In general, calling ahead is a good idea. Double check to make sure the executive is still employed with that company. The agent’s name may appear in the “Hollywood Agents and Managers Directory,” but turnover is fierce, and the agent at UTA today could be at CAA tomorrow.

Avoid writing the letter by hand. Of course, an equal amount of care should be given to the envelope.

Avoid including “yes/no” self-addressed postcards - unless requested.

NEVER send the script along with the letter – unless requested.

When your script is solicited, do not ask that it be returned, and do not include a self-addressed stamped manila envelope for its return – unless requested.

I should add that many companies accept e-mail queries. Whether it's electronic or snail mail, the same common sense guidelines apply.


:)
 

dpaterso

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Tough to beat that post. :)

But if you haven't already, check out the screenwriting tips thread, search for query letter to find links to related articles.

-Derek
 

nmstevens

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Tough to beat that post. :)

But if you haven't already, check out the screenwriting tips thread, search for query letter to find links to related articles.

-Derek


The only point of disagreement I'd raise is that the "I, Claudius meets Die Hard" type description, even though it's commonplace between agents and producers, is generally frowned upon when writers use them to describe their own work.

It's an odd kind of snobbery. That is, they want to think of *themselves* as able to reduce your work down to "X meets Y" sorts of fomulae -- but they like to think that the writer is actually more artistic than that.

Better to just refer to it in genre category, "a hard-edged thriller" or a "coming-of-age drama" or whatever.

NMS
 

red hawk

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wow, thanks guys. This is a great starting point for me. I do have one question about the person you're contacting. Some of the agencies I've looked up don't have a contact name, what should I do in that case? Just put the agencies name as the header?
 

creativexec

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The only point of disagreement I'd raise is that the "I, Claudius meets Die Hard" type description, even though it's commonplace between agents and producers, is generally frowned upon when writers use them to describe their own work.

It's an odd kind of snobbery. That is, they want to think of *themselves* as able to reduce your work down to "X meets Y" sorts of fomulae -- but they like to think that the writer is actually more artistic than that.

Better to just refer to it in genre category, "a hard-edged thriller" or a "coming-of-age drama" or whatever.

NMS

I think if it's a good hybrid, it will motivate people to read the script.

I don't think many in the biz will judge a writer "snobby" or whatever because he uses a hybrid. A good hybrid can help to make the producer or exec or agent or assistant's job easier.

But I think problems can result when a clueless writer uses obsolete or unsuccessful movie titles in the hybrid.

It's also risky if the producer or executive isn't a fan of the title (or titles) used in the hybrid. (Using successful movies is often the remedy to that.)

As MNS points out, agents, producers and executives use hybrids all the time. If you're targeting a query letter to that group, it makes sense to speak their language. A good hybrid helps to communicate the tone of the script - which a logline and genre may not be able to do with precision.

As NMS's post suggests, using a hybrid isn't as obvious or as black & white as it might seem. It's a judgement call.

On another note, I would also avoid the query letter services that write the letter for you and blast it off to everyone in the business. Those "To Whom It May Concern" missives are never good, impersonal and, often, very long.

:)

Some of the agencies I've looked up don't have a contact name, what should I do in that case? Just put the agencies name as the header?

You should do the research to find out the name of an agent at the agency. The Internet, the "Hollywood Creative Directory" or message boards are various ways to find out who's who. Why are you targeting the agency if you don't know anything about the people there? How do you know it's a good agency? How do you know who they represent? PERSONALIZE YOUR LETTER. Definitely do the legwork.

:)
 
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creativexec

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No denying that the most IMPORTANT thing in the letter is the logline. If it doesn't catch my interest, all the other stuff is moot.

The fate of a query letter is determined long before it's written. It's determined when the writer first comes up with his story idea.


:)
 

icerose

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What I tend to do, and it gives me a pretty high response is:

Dear X

Logline (Brief intro my name, script name)

Three paragraph tight synopsis.

Close with any experience I have.

Thank you for your time.

X

Contact Info.

As for writing a tight synopsis I strongly suggest bullet points so you can keep yourself from wandering off track and rambling, then flesh out those points and make it flow together.

Good luck.
 

nmstevens

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What I tend to do, and it gives me a pretty high response is:

Dear X

Logline (Brief intro my name, script name)

Three paragraph tight synopsis.

Close with any experience I have.

Thank you for your time.

X

Contact Info.

As for writing a tight synopsis I strongly suggest bullet points so you can keep yourself from wandering off track and rambling, then flesh out those points and make it flow together.

Good luck.


Personally, I'd avoid the synopsis. If I've read the logline and it's made me interested in reading the script, then I'm going to ask to read the script.

If it hasn't, the chances that expanding the logline to two or three paragraphs will change my mind are neglible.

On the other hand, if I like the logline, there's always a real possibility that you'll give me some reason to change my mind in those three paragraphs.

Basically, it should go like this:

My letterhead

Hello correctly spelled appropriate person at correctly spelled appropriate company,

Briefly impress you with my professionalism, here's the idea of my movie. Briefly impress you again with my professionalism, good bye.


That's it.

NMS
 

DaniGirl

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wow, thanks guys. This is a great starting point for me. I do have one question about the person you're contacting. Some of the agencies I've looked up don't have a contact name, what should I do in that case? Just put the agencies name as the header?

Here's what I did..

1) go to www.wga.org and locate the list of signatory agencies.

2) Call each agency and ask to whom do you address query letters for screenplays.

Most likely you will hear " We are only taking submissions from referrals"; "We are not taking new clients at this time, but good luck"; "Address it to the Literary Department".

I located 8 agencies who are willing to accept a query.

Anyhow..call those agencies. Make sure you have a notepad and pen/pencil handy.
 

red hawk

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Here's what I did..

1) go to www.wga.org and locate the list of signatory agencies.

2) Call each agency and ask to whom do you address query letters for screenplays.

Most likely you will hear " We are only taking submissions from referrals"; "We are not taking new clients at this time, but good luck"; "Address it to the Literary Department".

I located 8 agencies who are willing to accept a query.

Anyhow..call those agencies. Make sure you have a notepad and pen/pencil handy.


Thanks Danigirl,

I'll try that.
 

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