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  • Creating the Pitch-Perfect One Sheet

    April 15th, 2017

    By Danny Manus

    One important part of the pitch that writers constantly forget is the One-Sheet. I know many of you are preparing your pitch, getting your script in shape, and figuring out what your strategy should be to maximize your pitching experiences. But how many of you have completed your one-sheet?

    If your hand isn’t raised – you’ve got some work to do. One-Sheets are an absolute must if you are going into a pitch meeting, especially at a pitchfest event. It’s what you are going to give the executives at the conclusion of your pitch that will allow them to remember you and your story a week or two after the event, when they finally go through everything and decide what they want to read. If your pitch is your first impression, the one-sheet is your lasting impression.

    It’s the only way the executive, who has listened to 50 pitches that day, is going to be able to remember you after the salient details of your glorious pitch have escaped them. I used to write my comments on the one-sheet the second the writer left the table so I didn’t forget. “Great Idea, Not Commercial, Bad Pitch, Nice Writer, etc.”

    Your one-pager (another term for one-sheet) is your calling card and you should always keep one on you at all times. Even if the event you’re pitching at tells you not to!

    It’s not just a selling tool for your story, but also for yourself. It differs from a synopsis in a few ways. First, as its name dictates, it’s only ONE page.  Secondly, unlike the synopsis which is just about your story, your one-sheet can be a bit about you as well. It’s much closer to the query letter but without the letter aspects. You don’t need the greeting or closing, but a good one-sheet should include the following:

    –  Your name

    –  The title of your screenplay

    –  Your contact info including email (even if they have it already)

    –  The genre of your script

    –  The logline of your script

    –  If appropriate, 1-2 lines that state anything special about you that pertains to your story or the film business in general just like in your query letter. Or mention of any major contest wins, produced projects, etc.

    –  1-3 very short paragraphs (about 8-12 lines on the page) about your story, your world, your protagonist and what they must accomplish, what is against them, and what’s on the line.  It should be a bit more stylized than your synopsis, which means your voice as a writer should shine through.

    –  Much like the query letter, you should not give away your ending, but you should tease and intimate your awesome ending – let the exec know that your story builds to something exciting.

    On a one-sheet, you can also include at the bottom 1-3 more titles with genre and logline of other projects you have written (if you have others), because the executive might not like your project, but they might like YOU, and want to know what else you’ve done.

    And incredibly important for your one-sheet — no typos or grammatical errors!! If you cannot write a half a page without a typo or mistake, then why would they want to read 100 pages ot that? Many execs will throw away a one-sheet with a typo on it.

    Execs can tell if someone can write by their one-sheet, and they often will not ask for a script if the one-sheet is unimpressive, bland, boring, or doesn’t tell them anything.

    The paper shouldn’t be boring. In the 3500+ pitches I’ve listened to, the one-pagers I keep the most and take more notice of have something different on the page. They are a bit more visual, perhaps there’s a poster or pattern on the page that connects with your story, or they are printed on a slightly harder stock of paper than just regular printer paper. It doesn’t need professional graphic design, but I’ve seen many one-sheets that are basically the poster for the movie on one side and the synopsis and other information on the other. This seems to be the trend these days and there are a number of places out there offering this more graphic service.

    Just like with your pitch – the more visual a one-sheet is, the more memorable it will be. Is an exec not going to read your script because your one sheet isn’t visually stimulating? No, of course not. But you are trying to do things that make you stand out, in a good way. Executives may tell you it doesn’t matter, but subconsciously, it does. People like shiny objects. It’s how Transformers keeps getting made. So if there is something visually stimulating – not detracting or distracting – but stimulating about the page, chances are execs will pay more attention to it.

    One thing you should NOT do – is put the actor you want in your movie on your one-sheet. Nothing will scream amateur more than a photo-shopped picture of Adam Sandler!

    However you design it, I cannot express to you the importance of having one. Writers always ask if a business card is good enough. As far as getting an exec your contact info, a business card works. But even if the title of your script is printed on that card, that’s not going to remind the executive about your story or your pitch or some of those key words you dropped during your pitch. Business cards get lost, they fall out of pockets or bags, get thrown away, etc. A one-sheet is a preferred.

    Many people say things like one-sheets are unnecessary and that if you don’t write them, an executive will have no choice but to ask for your script instead. Untrue! They have another option…not asking for anything! And if they were on the fence about your project, not having a one-sheet makes it that much easier for them to forget you were ever there.

  • 50 Reasons Why Your Query Letter Sucks

    May 8th, 2015

    By Danny Manus

    Have you sent out dozens of query letters? Hundreds? Thousands?

    And no response? No reads? No meetings? Not even a polite rejection letter telling you why they won’t read your material?

    Then let me be clear…It’s YOU. Not THEM.

    You’re the problem. Or at least, your query letter is.

    There have been some articles lately about how the whole idea of a query letter in today’s Hollywood is a hoax. I don’t believe that. Why? Because while 98% of queries may go straight into the trash and the chances of them paying off are indeed incredibly slim… they’re no less valid than any other way of trying to get read, signed, produced or otherwise noticed. And they’re still the least expensive. Everything’s a long shot. Everything’s a crap shoot. Queries are no different. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a try. IF you’re doing it right. The problem is – 98% of you aren’t.

    I recently agreed to help a boutique agency sift through their backlog of hundreds and hundreds of queries that were piling up – something I’ve done for other agents and managers in the past. I was asked to keep the ones I thought might be worth reading or contacting the writer about. I read about 550 queries just for this one company over the course of a couple weeks, and it quickly became frighteningly obvious how many ridiculous, unnecessary, sloppy, unprofessional, clueless, amateur mistakes writers were making with their queries.

    For the record, of the 550(ish) queries, I gave 35 query letters back to the agent to look at. All the others are now sitting in my recycling bin. Except for the handful that were so ungodly awful, unprofessional or ridiculous, that they are now being kept in my folder of query gems that I use in my classes as examples of what not to do (don’t worry, I don’t use names).

    But it doesn’t have to be like that. You CAN get read and noticed and even signed from your query letters. If you’re not committing any of the cardinal sins of queries listed below.  A checklist I crudely call…

    The 50 Reasons Your Query Letter Sucks. I hope you’ll forgive my foul language.

    1. TYSPOS. If yuo cant right one paragraf without dozens of tyspos then you’re script is probably illegidable. See how insanely annoying that is. Makes me sound like a fucking 4th grader, doesn’t it? Why would a manager invest their time in someone who writes like that? If you cannot write a half a page without correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation, I will not read your script. Period. Hire someone to edit your letter if you need to. You have no idea how many letters I read where the script’s own TITLE had a typo in it. There is NO excuse for laziness or stupidity.
    2. You didn’t include your EMAIL ADDRESS in your letter. Do yourself a favor and stop including a SASE with your query. No one is mailing you back. If we want to read your script, we’re going to email you and let you know. If there’s no email address on the letter, then guess what…we can’t contact you and you wasted a stamp. Of the 550 queries in this batch, well over 100 did not have email addresses and went right in the garbage. Also, make sure your Email address is appropriate and professional. If your email is Hottieforyou69@aol.com, do yourself a favor – get a second account.
    3. You’re writing stories everyone else is writing. Sometimes it’s just your concept or lack of originality. In this batch, there were some CLEAR trends. The most common concepts queried included: War/Soldier Stories (at least 15% of all queries received), Aliens/Robots/Sci-Fi stories (15%), True Stories likely based on the writer’s life (at least 10%), Bank Robbery/Heist stories (10%), Christmas movies (5%), Torture Porn (5%), Rape/Abortion Stories (5%), Sequels to Existing Movies (5%), etc. The other 30% were broken up between comedies, other types of dramas, thrillers, a few ghost stories, and TV pilots. In other words – most of the queries were for stories and genres that can’t sell.
    4. YOUR QUERY IS WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS OR SOME FUNNY FONT.
    5. You sent a handwritten serial killer-style manifesto. It’s called a computer. Use it. And stop torturing animals in your shack.
    6. You don’t tell us your genre and you don’t have a good logline (or ANY logline). The people you’re sending queries to have to pitch your concept to their bosses. That’s why your logline is so important. Plus, if your logline is truly great, the rest of the letter doesn’t need to be that long. But I can count on one hand how many of the 550 queries had a truly GREAT logline that made me excited to read more.
    7. Your query is written in all Spanish. No hablo, muchacho.
    8. The first line of your query is “I’m a first time writer…” – well then you’re not ready to be querying and definitely not ready for an agent or manager who don’t want to be your guinea pig.
    9. You’re querying agents about your first script. Do not bother. You need at least 2 polished and ready scripts for agents to care about you. You can query producers, but honestly, it’s probably not ready for them either.
    10. You are querying about an IDEA you have and not a script you’ve written. Thanks for the idea. Next time, write the script and register it. This is how ideas get stolen – and it’s YOUR fault. No one is going to sign you based on an idea. They are worthless.
    11. Your brief story synopsis is really just ONE scene or only covers the first 15 pages of your story and it doesn’t point out the situation your character must do/overcome/achieve or what your hook is.
    12. You’ve written a sequel to a major franchise, book, or film. STOP WASTING YOUR DAMN TIME AND MINE! No one is buying your Batman or Star Wars movie – CUT IT OUT! It makes you a fan, not a screenwriter. DO NOT write scripts for stories, characters or films you don’t own the rights to. Producers and studios have a prestigious stable of million-dollar screenwriters they want movie ideas from for their franchises and you’re not one of them.
    13. You’re querying about a spec you’ve written of an existing TV show because you want to sell it to the producers of that show. This is NEVER going to happen. If you want to be a TV writer, you should be querying about your ORIGINAL PILOT and as a 2nd sample, you can mention you also wrote a spec of an existing show. But you should never query an agent because of a spec of a show you want to sell to its producers.
    14. You included autographed headshots of yourself. Unnecessary. Unless you’re really hot.
    15. In your letter, you ask for DONATIONS to your Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign! I even got one letter that was a query asking for donations to his college education for film school. No joke.
    16. You’re sharing TMI or opening with something personal or embarrassing. If you have a legitimate mental illness – DON’T tell us about it in your query. I read at least 3 queries where the writer told me in the first line that they are bipolar. You’re a screenwriter – I already assume you have mental issues.
    17. You tell me to call your MOTHER. Yes, in one of the greatest/worst queries I’ve ever read, it was a 3 page hand-written letter on yellow legal paper and at the end, the writer – who is 27 YEARS OLD(!!) – says he lives in his mother’s basement and to please call HER cell phone and leave a message and she will pass it along. Seriously, Norman Bates? Would I have to ask your mother if you can come to a meeting too?
    18. You’re starting your query by telling me your whole life story. I don’t give a shit. And you’re not that interesting. I have only read 2 query letters ever where the life story was so moving and powerful I had to read their script. TWO. Out of tens of thousands.
    19. Your story is about rape, domestic abuse or abortion. Especially if you’re a male writer. These are NOT the most interesting things about women to write about. Even if you’re a female writer, it’s been done to death (no pun intended) and 90% of the time we know it’s based on your own true story. Not even Lifetime is making movies about rape and abortion anymore.
    20. Your whole query letter is one huge block of writing without any line spaces or paragraphs. I can only imagine what your script looks like.
    21. Your query is for a Game Show or (unmade) Short Film. No one represents short film writers or game show writers. Try writing something that can make you MONEY.
    22. You’re not using both capital and lower case letters like a normal person. The title of your script better start with a Capital Letter. It should also be in quotation marks and can be capitalized (though not necessary).
    23. You INSULT other movies in your query letter to make yours sound better. You have no idea who’s reading your letter or who they’ve worked with or what movies they worked on or love. Don’t tell us your story is “like X movie but with a good story, more likeable characters and actually funny.” Makes you sound like a jealous dick.
    24. You promise us your script is the best script we’ll read all year. It’s not. I guarantee it. Don’t set the bar higher than you can reach.
    25. You tell us to check out your Tumblr blog or website or Twitter feed to find out about your story or download your script. Don’t troll for followers or website hits.
    26. You close your query with “Kiss, Kiss” or something stupid and immature. End your query with “Warmest” “Warmest Regards” “Sincerely” or “Respectfully” and then your name, email, and phone number. That’s it.
    27. You are LYING in your query and it’s really fucking obvious and insulting. Do not tell me in your query letter that you’re an award winning writer if that award is some high school competition or 3rd place in Scriptapalooza 2006. You didn’t win shit. Don’t say you have lots of agents begging to represent you or numerous producers clamoring for your story – because I know that’s not true. You know how I know? Because then you wouldn’t be blind querying me, would you!? Do not say studios or actors are interested if you don’t have a Letter of Intent. It takes ONE phone call to confirm you’re a liar. Do not tell us about what your “friends in the industry” said about the script. If you had real friends in the industry, you wouldn’t be querying like this. You’re trying to start a long-term relationship with someone – don’t start on a lie. This isn’t Tinder.
    28. Connected to that, you try to exaggerate to make yourself sound better by using words you think we can’t decipher. For instance, “My script is currently with X MAJOR STUDIO” – We know that means you randomly emailed your script and haven’t heard back. Or “My script is currently in contention for the Nicholls Fellowship” – which means you paid the entry fee and submitted.
    29. You say you’ve been inspired by God to write your story. God has nothing to do with it. Unless the God you pray to is Aaron Sorkin.
    30. You’re a repeat offender. If you have sent the same query letter to the same company 16 times – guess what? IT’S A FUCKING PASS! Take the hint. Stop sending it. You only seem like more of a desperate nut-job (I’m talking to you, Jack!).
    31. You don’t tell us anything that makes you stand out in a POSITIVE way or makes one think you have a strong enough voice or pleasant and professional enough disposition.
    32. You start your query with a ridiculous rhetorical question. “Ever wonder what would happen if your dog turned into a beautiful woman?” Umm…NO. No, I haven’t. Better question is – Why have you? We can’t answer you and if we answered NO, then we have dismissed your premise before reading your story. This is an antiquated way of writing queries – stop it!
    33. You offer to send me pictures of you, and ask me to send you pictures of me. It’s not that kind of agency, you creepy fuck.
    34. You make it feel like a form letter even though we know it is. Send your letter to a specific person and spell their name right! Don’t address your query to “Dear Sir or Madam” or to the wrong name or wrong company, and don’t address it to “Dear My Next Agent” or “Dear Gatekeeper” or “Dear Development Person.” Do your due diligence and research and know who you are sending it to. It’s called IMDBPRO.
    35. You’ve included random coverage reports and you didn’t even get a RECOMMEND! A CONSIDER is nothing to brag about. And those coverage/notes reports are private.
    36. You tell us who should star in your movie or who you wrote the characters for. If it’s well-written, producers will know who should play that role. The way to cheat this is when you describe your character, you can say “A Seth Rogen type” instead of “I wrote this for Seth Rogen” – because what if the agent or producer hates him?
    37. You tell us in your letter that you demand to produce/direct/star in the movie. I even had one letter where the writer said he would appreciate it if the hypothetical movie would be scheduled around his day job. INSTANT PASS. Unless you’re also financing the film.
    38. You’re writing your query letter in the third person. Danny Manus has written a wonderful new thriller that Danny Manus would like you to read…. Danny Manus sounds like a douche.
    39. You’re bragging that you got honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest Contest of 2006. Who the fuck cares? It’s not a major contest, you didn’t even win, and it was like 10 years ago. If you haven’t WON or been a FINALIST in one of the 10-15 major prestigious contests (or semifinalist in the top 3 contests) in the last 5-6 years then it’s not worth mentioning in a letter. It just tells us your script has been around FOREVER and no one has wanted it or signed you off of it.
    40. You’re not setting up a context for your script. Use “It’s this meets that” or “It’s in the vein of this and that” because it allows execs to see where your project fits in the marketplace. But use the RIGHT template films that show tone, genre and context.
    41. You’re making it sound like you only have ONE idea and want a quick sale and are only in it for the money. If you’re querying producers, that’s fine. But not if you’re querying reps because they’re in it for the long haul and want someone looking for a career.
    42. You include copies of your Library of Congress Copyright form, WGA Registration receipt, or anything else that makes it look like you’re expecting us to steal your idea.
    43. You’re including MULTIPLE loglines when sending to a producer. Your query to a producer should be about ONE project. If querying reps, you can include 1-3 projects in your query but more than that and it looks like a red flag that no one likes your work.
    44. You’re pitching multiple scripts in multiple genres. This is what I call spaghetti queries because you’re just throwing a bunch of shit at the wall and seeing what sticks. You can include more than 1 logline to a rep, but if it’s 4 projects in 4 genres then you don’t know what kind of writer you are yet and you’re not ready.
    45. You bad-mouth an agent or manager you USED to have. It’s a small world in Hollywood. Keep that in mind and don’t be that guy.
    46. Your query letter is longer than ONE page. Some people send treatments, some send packages, some send the first 10 pages of script (not ONE of them were good). All you need to send is a ½ to 1 page query letter. That’s it.
    47. You tried to be overly clever – and failed. Comedy is subjective. Let the comedy of your story and concept sell us instead of you trying too hard to make me laugh.
    48. You try to promote or sell your personal agenda, message, political affiliation, or social beliefs instead of telling a story. That’s not what screenwriting is for. Write a blog. Because no one gives a shit.
    49. You quote box office grosses of movies because you think it means yours will be likewise successful. Just because Saving Private Ryan made half a billion dollars does not mean YOUR war story will. That movie had the biggest movie star in the world and the biggest director in the world. You cannot in any way compare your movie to that one. And you don’t have to tell us how successful other movies were – we know!
    50. You’re just not a good enough writer. Brutal, but possibly true.

    Let’s be realistic – there are upwards of 60,000 scripts registered every year with WGA plus thousands more that are not registered. Agents, managers and producers receive many thousands of queries each year and 90% of them don’t even accept unsolicited queries. The competition is staggering. The window is small. So just having a good idea, good script, or good query simply is not enough. I’m not telling you to stop writing or stop querying – I’m just begging you to be better. Be better than the 550 queries I just read. Be ready. Be professional. Heed the above list and give yourself a shot. Write a query that no one can resist…and no one will. Or, you can just keep writing queries that suck.

     

    ***This month, No BullScript Consulting is launching an exciting new Second Reader Service, where you can purchase a one-hour phone/skype consultation with a working Development Executive or Manager who will read your script and discuss their constructive notes and answer your questions! No assistants, no middle-men, no B.S.! Make it a combo and get TWO sets of comprehensive notes at a discounted price! Check out the Second Reader Page for more details!

  • Stop Querying the Wrong Way

    December 19th, 2011

    I don’t like to bad mouth other companies or services too much – at least not in a public forum – but there is a not-so-new type of service out there that has grown in popularity and I’d like to stop all of your from being duped into wasting your money on it.

    It’s the automated query letter services that promise to help you “BREAK IN” by sending your query letter to THOUSANDS of execs, agents and managers and getting your script read. They want to open up their Hollywood rolodex to YOU… 

    What a load of complete and utter bullshit!!  These services – who are usually anonymous and do not tell you who even RUNS the company – are complete RIPOFFS! All they have done is re-typed the Hollywood Creative Directory or IMDB Pro into an email database full of email addresses that look like INFO@RANDOMCOMPANY.COM and they charge you anywhere from $50-$300 to “fix” your query letter and blanket the town with it.

    And even for those companies who have their own more specific list of email addresses of real execs, I promise you – those companies and execs and agents are not waiting by the fax machine for the newest random query letter from these companies. You know why – because no one uses a fucking fax machine anymore. 

    The letters they send are not personalized (to your project or to the specific company), they are not referrals, they are not recommendations, and they generally DO NOT GET READ! They are a constant annoyance to executives who go through hundreds of REAL query letters sent by referrals, reputable companies and writers every month.

    These companies – and there are plenty out there including Scriptblaster, Sellingyourscreenplay.com, Equerydirect, Screenplay Writers Connection, etc – are based solely on the fact that you’re a lazy fucking idiot and incredibly desperate.

    They are betting on the fact that you’re too clueless and stupid to figure out how to get in contact with anyone in Hollywood and they have convinced you that they have connections. They don’t. And if they did, they no longer do because those contacts are pissed that they have to deal with a constant onslaught of UNSOLICITED queries from these companies. That’s right, the letters they send out – are UNSOLICITED.

    I was talking about this with my friend Zac Sanford from Suntaur Entertainment (and Scriptchat) the other day and he told me he had “unsubscribed” from at least two of these services, yet he keeps getting these query letters – which go right in the trash! That’s $50 you’re literally throwing out.

    There are so many problems with using these services, the biggest of which may be that there is no quality control. They will send ANYONE’S letter out no matter how stupid, shitty, poorly written or just plain retarded your idea, story, writing, or letter is. Which means even if your query letter and project is FANTASTIC, the execs won’t read it because they’ve gotten SO much shit from that e-blast company already that they know the odds of it being good are slim to none. 

    These services are NOT referrals. They are just leaches trying to take your desperate-writer money and making a promise to you that is impossible to keep. Now, is it possible that out of the 500 companies they send your query letter to, that 1 or 2 will actually request the script? Sure. Perhaps an intern got bored or an assistant was in a good mood that day. But the other 498 companies now think you’re a stupid, desperate amateur.

    Now, there are sites that are different than these query letter blast sites that actually can be worthwhile. Sites like InkTip and Virtual Pitchfest for example are not query letter BLAST sites. These are sites that execs have actually signed up for and have agreed to read your query letter on (or synopsis on InkTip). They are not unsolicited or random query emails or faxes.

    Through my No Bull Hollywood Connection Program, any script that gets a “recommend” from me has its logline and query letter sent out to over 40 companies (not 4,000) that have AGREED to read them. And it’s a personalized email from ME to one of my actual contacts that I know personally. And, I can count on two hands how many recommends I’ve given, so execs are not being bombarded every week with dozens of emails. Oh right – and it’s FREE!!

    There are other consultants and companies out there that do similar services, some charge and some don’t, but at least they are making personalized direct contact with someone they actually know. Someone that might actually do something with your script. These query blast sites – are not.

    You know what using these bullshit query letter services tell executives – that you’re lazy and you don’t know anything about Hollywood. It says you’re so far removed from Hollywood, that you don’t even know when you’re getting screwed by Hollywood. 

    Breaking in and getting read isn’t easy and it’s not free either. But there’s no shortcut to getting read by 1,000 companies. These e-blast script marketing companies are just taking advantage of you, your project, and your wallet. Don’t be fooled by any company that says they can market your screenplay and get it in the hands of 500 companies at once. They can’t. They can only get their emails deleted by 500 companies at once – and then cash your check.

  • The Keys to Query Letters That Work

    October 25th, 2010

    By Daniel Manus

    The query letter is often a writer’s first impression – an all-too-important introduction of one’s writing ability and personality to an executive or representative. And much like when trying to get a first date, the point of a query letter is to entice whomever is reading it, to want more.

    After pouring 110 pages of heart and soul onto a blank screen, a half page query letter should be a breeze, right? …So how come writers keep screwing it up?

    Between snail mail queries, online query sites, the spec market, pitchfests, websites, consulting clients and general submissions, I have probably read about 2,500 query letters and over 25,000 loglines.  So you can imagine how impressive your logline and query letter has to be to not only grab an executive’s attention, but keep it, and impress them to the point where they want to read more!

    Your query letter could be the thing that’s keeping your great script from getting read. If you find that you have sent out 100 queries and gotten no reads, you need to rework it. So, I want to give you a simple, straight forward and darn-near foolproof plan for writing successful query letters.

    Let’s go back to the dating analogy. Approach your query letter like you’re approaching the opposite sex, trying to impress them. Be descriptive, honest, informative, appropriate, and seductive. You wouldn’t walk up to someone at a bar and start with a cheesy cliché pickup line question like “Haven’t we met before?” or “Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?” So, don’t start your query letters with a silly rhetorical question either – it’s not like whomever’s reading it can answer you.

    Don’t start with something insanely personal or embarrassing. You want the person to WANT to get to know you and work with you. You want to come off as professional, but much like with dating, you want to seem like you have a personality and there’s something special about you too. 

    As for format, your query letter should be about a half page, and never more than ¾ of a page. And while there are different ways to structure your letter, I recommend the following:

    The greeting; your title; then a 2 sentence introduction to you which should include anything that is special about you that pertains to your story, writing, or the film business in general that will set you apart. 

    For example, if you are represented (or were), if you’ve ever been produced, optioned or published (yes, even books), if you won (or were a finalist in) any prestigious contests – even if it was for another script, if your script is “based on a true story,” if it is an adaptation to a successful comic book or novel or webisode series that you own the rights to, etc. Anything that is going to set you apart from the stack of others. However, it needs to pertain to the business. Execs don’t care if you were raised on a farm with 3 cows, 2 goats and a chicken named Ted. If you can’t think of anything to say, or there’s nothing to connect you to the business at all, then leave it out.

    If you were a quarter-finalist, that’s usually not good enough to mention on a query letter UNLESS it was for Nicholls. That’s the only contest where being a quarterfinalist still means something. And if you’ve won the Po-Dunk Town Regional Screenwriting Contest – no one cares. It’s not worth mentioning and only tells the executive that you are that much removed from Hollywood.

    Back to format. Next, comes your logline. The logline should be 35 words or less and contain no more than 2 commas. It needs to make clear the genre, the major conflict, and what makes your script different – basically, it’s hook. It needs to contain action words, not just passive, descriptive words (for example, “chooses” is passive, “is forced to choose” is active). It should tell us a bit of the set up or starting point, who the main character(s) is, and then whatever the main story is about. It doesn’t need to say your main characters’ name, but it can. Not easy to do in 30 words, is it?

    Often writers use a tagline on a query letter instead of a logline. Don’t do that. A tagline is much different – it’s the 6-7 words on a poster that intrigue you about the story. The logline tells us what the story actually is and makes us picture the movie in one line.

    Then, 1-3 short (!) paragraphs about your story, your main characters, what happens, etc. I always like it when one paragraph is a bit more descriptive and places the script in context by using comparison movies. It’s “this” meets “that.” Or “it’s in the vein of THIS and THAT.” Just make sure to use movies that are similar in genre and tone and that did WELL at the box office! Don’t use a movie just because it starred the same actor you want for your project!

    These short paragraphs need to convey your story, its’ stakes, and the visual, emotional elements in an impossibly small amount of words.  It should be more stylized than your synopsis, which means your voice as a writer should shine through! It needs some detail, but don’t get bogged down in minutia – there’s not enough room.

     In 6-10 lines, you needs to give the BROAD STROKES of your story which should show us you have three acts and (inherently) answer the three major questions an executive asks – ‘Can I sell this? Who can I sell it to? When can I sell it?’ And the most important question for a query letter to answer – ‘Do I want to read more?’

    And there better not be ONE typo or grammatical mistake. If you can’t write half a page without typos, I could only imagine what your script looks like. Don’t give execs a reason to pass that is totally in your control.  Then close with a gracious and engaging closing and include your contact information, including email (even if they have it already). And you’re done.

    Here is a sample query letter using this format for a project I made up. Obviously, the things in parentheses are for you and would not be in the actual letter:

    To Whom It May Concern:

    Title: “Untitled Cop Thriller Screenplay”

    My name is Your Name Here and I’m a former police officer turned optioned screenwriter and Nicholls Fellowship (or whatever prestigious contest) semi-finalist and I’ve written an exciting new action thriller based on a true story (if it is) titled “Untitled Action Thriller Screenplay.”

    Logline: When a rookie cop in South Central LA gets paired with a grizzled detective secretly running a drug operation, he is forced to decide which side of the law he’s on before it’s too late. (sets up main characters, conflict, setting and that action is imminent)

    In the vein of Training Day and Boyz in the Hood, “Untitled” is a gritty, explosive story about vengeance and redemption (or whatever your big exciting themes are) that follows ROOKIE COP NAME, who has been pushed around his whole life. Now that he has his badge, he thinks he can finally command the respect he’s been seeking, while just maybe making the world a better place. But when he’s partnered with the hard-nosed veteran DETECTIVE NAME, he realizes getting respect on the streets needs to be earned.

    When a drive-by shooting kills a respected gang leader, it’s up to the new partners to investigate and keep the peace, any way possible. But Rookie begins to suspect there is more to the murder than meets the eye.

    As a city-wide gang war escalates, Rookie uncovers that Detective is secretly running an underground drug ring and is in business with the very gangs he is supposed to be arresting. Not knowing whom he can trust, and with his own family caught in the middle, Rookie must decide what’s more important – his badge, or his soul.

    If you’d like to read “Untitled Action Thriller Screenplay,” please contact me at ___________. Thanks for taking the time to consider my script, and I look forward to hearing from you.

    Sincerely,
    Name
    Email/Phone Number 

    That’s basically all you need. You can mix it up a bit and make sure your own voice comes through, but that’s about it.

    The funny thing about query letters is that unlike loglines, treatments and synopses, query letters are a tool only used by unrepresented writers or those trying to break into Hollywood.  A good agent or manager doesn’t send out general query letters on behalf of their clients. If they need to, they don’t have the contacts necessary to be an agent or manager. Once you have relationships around town, query letters are unnecessary.

    Queries, and the way they are sent, have changed over time. It used to be that if you didn’t have connections in Hollywood, sending a query letter through the mail and hoping someone read it and liked it, was the best way to break in. Now, snail mail query letters have become bird cage lining. I honestly don’t know why writers keep sending them. MAYBE an intern opens them, but in the last 5 years, I haven’t heard of more than ONE success story coming from this method of querying.

    So what are your other options? Well, there are online query letter services. There are sites like Virtual Pitchfest, InkTip and PitchQ. Yes, they are more expensive than a stamp, but at least you know someone is seeing what you’re sending.

    No matter how you send them, execs can tell if someone can write by their query letter! And much like with dating, these first impressions could be the difference between you getting lucky, or you going home alone.

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