I recently hosted a tele-seminar that afforded aspiring screenwriters from all over the world the opportunity to listen to an insightful and stimulating discussion about screenwriting as a profession. Participants had the opportunity to ask questions that pertained to their personal challenges, communicating directly with the various guests who participated on the call. It should be noted that all the guests were successful, established veterans with at least 20 years plus of professional expertise.
Among the copious questions presented and addressed in this forum, the following question prompted me to share my thoughts here.
"I've emailed a number of managers and agents seeking representation, but have not heard back from anyone. What's the trick to securing a good agent or manager to represent me and my screenplays?"
There is no trick. The answer lies in your introduction, your very first writing sample, and most importantly (drum roll please), your logline
There are a vast number of tools to aid you in the pursuit of representation, I will focus your attention here on just one --- the query letter.
Most representatives delegate the trifling task of reading incoming queries to an assistant or intern. But truth is, most representatives do read queries. Even more importantly, representatives actually respond to ones that HOOK their interest.
If you are not generating any interest from query letters, it simply means that you need to redraft your letter and specifically your logline.
Here are three basic guidelines to consider when crafting your next query letter:
1 - Know Your Market
Targeting CAA or any of the top-tier literary representatives is simply the wrong strategy. They are shaping careers, not inventing them. They are elevating a career, not commencing one.
Targeting boutique entities that develop new talent is a more appropriate and useful strategy. New blood is welcomed. But, be original.
Most representative inboxes are littered with emails that begin:
I’m in search of a manager to help me sell my work.
Boring and generic, right? If your email query begins this way or anything that resembles it you may as well delete the email yourself.
Instead use the power of the internet to insure that your introduction stands out. Keep in mind that this is a town full of press releases, screenwriting forums, and companies that exist to track who is being hired, fired, promoted, who sells what, who buys what, etc... Use this information to set yourself apart. Here’s an example:
Congrats on the recent spec sales to Sony animation and Disney, especially in the current environment. I particularly found the Sony project logline fun and entertaining.
In my opinion, that opening presents you as an informed professional versus a novice.
Do some due diligence on the target. This affords you the opportunity to personalize the letter. Hear me: I’m not suggesting that you make this some rambling saga. Keep it simple.
2 - The Right Hook
The industry is changing and will continue to evolve but, what will not change is this... Representatives are seeking material they can sell in a competitive marketplace!
Your logline is the essential ingredient
. I recommend that you always introduce your most commercial, big idea. Your logline should evoke the imagination to see the movie poster, the video box.
If it doesn’t, rework your one-to-two sentence logline until it does. The goal is to entice the reader to request the script, just as a trailer’s purpose is to sell tickets. This is the "coming attractions" moment.
Christopher Vogler and I spoke at length about this and he offered the following technique when crafting a logline. Here it is:
Think in terms of a certain rhetorical device – "Not only, but also". In essence, you are introducing the reader to a base they are already familiar with, but then offering a twist or something about the subject they did not know.
The Easter Bunny decides to retire and hides out as a pet with a suburban family, turning their lives upside down.
By distilling your screenplay idea to its most memorable form you will make it easily transferable and saleable.
3 - The First Impression
Absolutely never neglect the basics of spelling, grammar, and clear, vivid writing. This is your first impression... it matters! Your query letter itself functions partly as a writing sample.
This is your sales tool, not a sales pitch.
Don’t make the mistake of confusing the two. This is not the place to ramble on about how great your screenplay is or how engaging your characters are. That's for the reader to decide.
If your uncle tells you that your idea is a $100 Million Dollar idea... let him buy it.
Write a professional, intelligent, concise, intriguing query that includes a compelling and commercially viable logline and not only will you entice representatives to ask for more, but you’ll be one step closer to a sale.