Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How to Query Production Companies and Agents

"What's so funny? show me your query letters." 

Written by Hal Croasmun

I'm sure that writer would like to get their script read, but they forgot to use their writing skill to write an amazing query letter. If anything gives you credibility, it is the quality of your writing.

First, an important word that should describe your marketing materials...

Lure: Anything that entices, tempts, or attracts with the promise of gaining a pleasure or reward. Bait.

Here's a word you don't want associated with your query:

Repellent: Causing distaste or aversion; repulsive.

You want your query letter to attract, not repel. Here are a few "Do's" and "Don'ts" for the three parts of a good query letter, which are:

1. The Logline

 2. The Synopsis

 3. Your Bio

The key to each of these is to show the marketability of your script without saying the words "It is marketable because..."

Keep in mind that marketing your screenplay goes far beyond just creating the query letter - but cover some important basics.


1. DO write your logline or concept in a way that creates as much interest as you can.

DON'T write it as a "Poster line."

A line like "Three minutes from death. What do you do?" could describe a scene in a thousand stories. It works fine to start out a synopsis, but not as the logline.

2. DO give away the story.

DON'T be vague.

This one is important. Too many loglines go like this:

"A confused bride returns to her hometown to resolve the biggest issue in her life, but is shocked at what she discovers."

Do you have any idea what happens in that story? I don't. It is vague and leaves us confused.

Usually, this happens either because the writer is trying to maintain some sense of mystery about what happens in the story. But you've got to remember this one important fact...

...The Producer is making a BUSINESS DECISION.

They are looking for a story they can sell. They need to know that it works. Your job is to deliver that story. A vague logline doesn't intrigue as much as it makes a producer doubt your ability to tell a great story.

Imagine if you were calling an ad to buy a car and the seller said something like:

"The car is exactly like I described in the ad, but there is one thing I won't tell you about until you get here."

Does that intrigue you or scare you? Are you going to drive 30 miles to find out what that one thing is or are you going to call the next ad?

My advice: Give away the best part in the logline.

"A confused bride fights the Hillbillies who drugged and forced her into marriage, but changes her mind when she falls in love with her husband's brother... right before he is killed."

Don't worry about whether that is a great story or not. Just notice that you have a good idea of what the story is about. Do you see that?

BTW, I know this goes against what many screenwriting teachers tell you, but just remember the car analogy above. If the Producer doesn't know you, your story is your main source of credibility. So you want to communicate it as powerfully as you can.

3. DO get to the essence.

DON'T include needless details.

The logline needs to give us the story without a lot of details. In the logline above, notice that we haven't included info about the character's background, how she was drugged, where the Hillbillies house is at, why the Judge of this small town supports the forced marriage, or a thousand other details.

The job is to find the core of the story and deliver it in the most interesting way you can. You don't want to confuse the reader in any way. Instead, keep working with your logline until you have found the core of the story. That way, you are communicating as precisely as possible.

Overall, you want all of your marketing materials to LURE the producer into requesting your script. At the same time, you need to make sure none of them repel the reader. Remember, your query letter should be so good that producers and agents WANT to work with you from the first sentence.

Whether you are sending a query letter to an Agent, Manager, or Producer, there are three extremely important pieces of advice:

1. Keep it SHORT.

2. Hook them as soon as possible.

3. Make sure the writing is great!

Obvious, right? About 5% (that's right, five percent) of all query letters actually do all three of those.

Just do those three things and you stand above 95% of the query letters received by most companies.

For the second part of this article series, I'll give the short version of two important parts of a query letter -- the synopsis and the bio. The details are covered in the class I do below.


You have a few paragraphs to deliver all of this.

Essence of the story.

Main conflict.

Imply beginning, middle, and end.

DO tell it in the most compelling way you possibly can.

DO use emotionally loaded words that deliver depth of experience to the reader.

DO give us some lead characters that A-list actors will want to play.

DON'T give any details that aren't appealing or intriguing. Details are important for the script, but often bog a pitch down.

DON'T give us a "book report" on your story.

Just keep reminding yourself that your purpose is to get them to request the script, not to know the story perfectly.


Your bio goes at the end of the letter and presents credibility for why you are the perfect person to write this story.

DO tell about any contests you've won or placed in. If you have multiple wins, give us the one or two most impressive ones.

DO tell if you're already an optioned or produced writer.

DO tell about any unique skills or background you have that qualifies you to tell this story.

Example for a gambling movie:

"Besides winning two Nevada Screenwriting Contests, I'm a three-time finalist at the World Championships of Poker held in Las Vegas."

In one sentence, we discover two reasons why this writer could be the perfect writer of a script on gambling -- contest wins and inside knowledge of the poker industry.

DON'T do any of the following:

- say you're desperate.

- beg.

- say anything crazy.

- tell about the bills you have.

- say you're going to quit screenwriting if they don't buy your script.

When you write your next query letter or any other marketing materials, remember to present your highest quality writing and lure the reader into contacting you for your script.

Present yourself as an attractive person to do business with. Show how your story is marketable and how you're the perfect person to write this story. Be brief, precise, and write powerfully.

Do that and you'll increase your chances dramatically.

I give special thanks to Hal Croasmun, President at Screenwriting U Location, for this article.

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