Debunking Screenwriting Myths, Part 6: The Query Letter
by Geno Scala
Over the past few months, I’ve had the distinct pleasure and opportunity to assist several name directors and producers in searching for screenplays of specific genre or topic. With my vast network of screenwriters at my disposal, I though it incumbent on me to reach out and help fellow writers, new and experienced alike, to help them reach their professional goal of attaining a sale or option deal.
When the word went out about a particular script search, the resulting storm of emails with accompanying scripts, bios, resumes and links was indeed satisfying. It was nice to know that so many of my contacts actually READ my emails or posts, but more importantly, that I was perhaps making a difference in their lives.
Then, I began to read the emails…the bios…and the resumes and links. Ugh!
So here is a brief list of some things one SHOULDN’T do when responding to a script request:
You shouldn’t IGNORE the specifics of the scripts that are being requested. If the genre requested is science fiction, you shouldn’t submit a story about a baby whale and the handicapped child trying to raise it, unless, of course, the whale can fly and the child is from Jupiter.
If the request is for screenplays with a Japanese-American theme, don’t submit a screenplay about a Chinese family, then add “It’s close”! Makes you sound like an idiot, at best, and racist, at worst.
You shouldn’t “cut and paste” your pre-written query letter into an email, and address the recipient as “Dear (blank)”. When you cut and paste, sometimes the fonts are different, and it appears very unprofessional.
You shouldn’t BOMBARD the recipient with every screenplay you’ve ever written, or hope to write or thought about writing. I cannot tell you how many writers submitted one query letter with more than five different loglines and synopses. No one is going to read it. Trust me.
You shouldn’t IGNORE spelling or grammatical errors- not in the query (not anywhere, if possible). I have actually seen writers misspell their own titles.
You shouldn’t make DEMANDS of the person requesting the script, such as “DO NOT FORWARD TO ANYONE WITHOUT MY EXPRESSED WRITTEN CONSENT!” Who would want to work with YOU?
You shouldn’t accompany your query letter with a request to “help raise funds for sick children” or to “stop socialism in America”, or to “support your local LGBT office”, even if it directly relates to the theme of your screenplay.
You shouldn’t take the query letter as an opportunity to apply for a job as a script reader, a production assistant, a grip or an actor
You shouldn’t forget your title. Trust me- seen it done many times.
You shouldn’t forget your contact information. See #9
Writing a query letter is an art in and of itself, and there are definite “do’s and don’ts” when writing one.
If you are responding to a request for a certain type of script, first thing you should do is ONLY respond if your script fits in what they are looking for. If it does, makes sure this fact is highlighted in the first sentence: “I am responding to your request for Japanese/American-themed scripts, and I’d like submit my comedy/drama “Life at The Tea House”, a Japanese/American story of love, redemption and ninja zombies.”
You need to highlight your “hook” right away (this is why it’s called a “hook”). This “hook” is the reason why your story is different from every other story of the same genre and theme.
Write a brief synopsis of your story, to include and beginning, middle and an end. Three short paragraphs, less than a page total.
Then end the query with a brief bio. Do not include useless information as to where you went to school or every contest you’ve ever entered. Two lines that tell the reader a little about you, your writing, and a mention or two about prestigious awards, if any. Quarter-finalist in the Bombay Theatre Writing Contest doesn’t qualify for space in the prime real estate of the query letter.
Make sure everything is spellchecked and grammatically correct, and do not forget your contact information. You have but one shot at making a good impression, so don’t blow it.
Geno Scala has been writing for over twenty years, and was one of the Executive Directors for the 1999-2000 Academy Awards presentation. He is an optioned screenwriter with nine screenplays to his credit, and is an alumnus of ScreenwritingU. He maintains a business in Hollywood, and resides in beautiful Huntsville, Alabama with his rocket-scientist wife, a daughter in grad school, another daughter in college in CA, and two teen-aged sons.