Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sending Queries to Literary Managers About a Screenplay

Erik Bork- screenwriter
Erik Bork is best known for his work as a writer-producer on the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers and From the Earth to the Moon – for which he won two Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards. He has also worked on the writing staff of two primetime series, sold original pitches, and written pilots and screenplays for most of the major studios and networks. He teaches in National University’s MFA Screenwriting Program, and was rated “Cream of the Crop” in Creative Screenwriting’s “The Best Script Analysts and Consultants.” You can check out his free “Ten Key Principles Successful Writers Understand,”  Please read and enjoy the article he has contributed.

When I work with writers giving feedback and guidance on their material and career paths, I often end up giving advice about how to gain access to agents, managers, and producers – which seems to most writers to be the biggest challenge of this business.
The common conception is that “who you know” is ultimately the key thing, because you can have the greatest script in the world, and if nobody in the industry will read it (because they don’t know you, and you weren’t referred to them by someone they trust), nothing will come of it, right?
True enough. However, this statement misses one key part of the equation: the industry is desperately hungryfor marketable material and writers. And it always has been and will be.
No matter how few paid writing jobs or script sales there might be compared to the number of people who would like to have them (and that will forever be an outrageous ratio), the fact remains that the “development” side of the business is always on the lookout for more “stuff they can sell.”
How desperate are they?
Last year I met a very legitimate, big time manager of working screenwriters at a writing conference I was invited to speak at (where writers had also paid to get five minutes to sit across from the likes of him), and asked him about the best way to “get access” to him and others of his kind.
Here’s what he said:
Send him an e-mail.
What kind of an e-mail? The kind with a quick description of the script you want him to read, and consider representing. The kind that he gets dozens of, every week.
I know, the prospect of “cold queries” seems like a huge long shot, and compared to a personal referral, perhaps it is. But it’s not necessarily worse than the five minute “pitch fest” approach, because ultimately what a manager (or agent, producer or executive) is looking at, in both cases, is the content of the story being proposed. It’s either something they think could be sellable (in a pitch or a short query), or it isn’t.
This particular manager said he gets about 100 such query e-mails a week.
And he asks to read the script for about 80 of them.
That’s right, 80 out of 100.
Another high-end manager I met at the same conference confirmed that this same process works, and also said she also gets about 100 a week, but she only asks to read about 10 of the scripts. She’s tougher on the loglines and synopses than he is. (And it’s possible that some are even tougher — and that agents, for instance, will be harder to get the attention of than managers, due to the differences in what they do and how they do it.)
Here’s the one thing they both agreed about, though, which is really the key point I want to make: out of the scripts that do get to them, they have only have interest in less than one script a week — and maybe as few as a handful each year.
In other words, regardless of the synopsis in the query, the script almost always fails to impress them as something they could do something with (or the writer as one they could “sell”).
The big challenge, then, is not so much about getting your material in front of the professionals who can help you. It’s making sure that the script you put in front of them will really impress them, when you do. This is the hard part. And this is what is rare, highly valued, and highly sought after.
Of course, we all know this, on some level. But writers often seem to think the “access issue” is at least 25%, or even 50%, of what determines whether a screenwriter gets their work sold and produced. And they tend to put a lot of time and energy into trying to “crack the code” of getting their work to the right people in the right way.
But it’s really not that complicated or hard. It requires a little research and diligence (and a thick skin), but getting your logline and premise or synopsis in front of these kinds of people is fairly simple.
There are multiple sources online where you can find e-mail addresses for managers, as well as producers – such as Itsonthegrid.com and IMDB Pro. The e-mail should be addressed to a specific individual. The manager I spoke with recommends you provide the logline and genre of your script, then a paragraph or two synopsis of the story (not a tease, but a real synopsis that explains the story).
Below that, you might include any important contests you’ve won, or other impressive writing background you might have – though that is strictly optional.
Many will not be as generous as this manager, in terms of being impressed enough by the query to ask to read the script. In some cases, it will have to really sound like a viable movie they could sell – or at least a viable writer who is very much on the right track.
But getting the “read,” at the end of the day, is not the key thing. What’s key is delivering with a script they think has a chance, that they can really do something with when they get it.
I guess it depends on your viewpoint whether this is “good news” or “bad news.” But I will tell you it’s what people inside the industry all tend to believe. They’re not trying to keep out marketable writing and writers. They are just so bombarded by material that isn’t marketable, in their view, that they have to put up somewhat of a wall to allow them to focus on serving their existing clients – which, trust me, is a very full-time job.
But these walls are not as solid as you might think. And they all want what you pitch and send to them to be something they think could sell and get produced. They’re really on your side in that. The tough part is creating such a thing. I know, because I grapple with this challenge myself, as a professional writer (and consultant to other writers) every day.


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Critique: $50.00 Flat Fee, Discount fee $42.50
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