What Producers Look for in a Screenplay Query/ 2018-04-21
In my decade or so at Treasure Entertainment, I literally received thousands of query letters from fledgling writers desperate to claw their way to the top of the read pile. Want to guess how many I responded to? If you said less than two dozen, you’d be a winner. This is not to discourage you from querying producers, but rather to drive home the reality that competition is fierce and many letters get tossed. However, there are a lot of things you can do (and avoid doing) in your query to increase your chances that a producer will actually request the script. Here are some of the most prominent:
Know Who You’re Querying
Research the company you’re sending the letter to. Know what kind of pictures they produce. The information is out there if you do a little digging. Look at the company’s credits on IMDb or Wikipedia. Google their films’ budgets. Treasure produces niche genre films under $10 million, but I can’t tell you how many times I received queries about a $75 million period drama. If you pitch something that’s in their wheelhouse, you have a much better shot at a response.
Start with a Solid Logline
Don’t meander through some circuitous introduction that forces the producer to find your story. Start with “Dear _____, I would like to submit the following screenplay for your consideration.” Then go right into the logline – a concise, one-sentence description of the plot. A good logline will reveal the protagonist, the antagonist, the conflict, the protagonist’s goal, and what’s at stake if the protagonist fails. It should also infer the genre, tone and scope of the piece. You want the producer to be able to glean from the logline whether it’s a big-budget action film or a dark indie drama. (Read Ashley Scott Meyers’ article “Writing a Screenplay Log Line” here: http://www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/how-to-sell-your-screenplay/writing-a-screenplay-logline/)
Other Key Elements
After the logline, follow up with a paragraph describing any enticing background about the project such as attached cast or a director, noteworthy awards or competition wins, whether the script is based on preexisting material like a book or magazine article, and whether any amount of funding is in place. This is your chance to really sell it. Follow that up with a short one-paragraph bio on yourself that details your entertainment or writing background and/or any relevant connection to the material (i.e., the main character is a boat captain and you used to charter sailboats). End by asking the producer what you want from them (to read the script), offer to sign a release if necessary, and thank them for their consideration.
Keep It Short
Seriously. Like no more than a page. Any producer who is even remotely capable of getting your picture made doesn’t have time to weed through a six-page treatise. Overly long queries appear daunting, don’t look professional, and may give the impression that you tend to overwrite.
Read, Edit, Re-Read
Thoroughly proof your letter for spelling, grammar, and formatting mistakes, either through your word processing program, an app like Grammarly, or a capable colleague. If your query is riddled with sloppy mistakes and awful grammar, the producer will presume your screenwriting is just as bad or worse. (If you can’t write a one-page letter, why would a 120-page screenplay be any better?) Also, don’t send your query right away. Sit on it a day, then go back and re-read it. You’ll often find issues you didn’t notice before, allowing you to take that extra opportunity to clean it up and make it shine.
A Few Extra Thoughts
Never send a treatment, script, or even select pages of the script with the query. Most companies won’t look at unsolicited material, which means it has to come from an agent, or they have to request it. Don’t include photos, videos, or gifts, either. If supporting material such as documentary footage or a pitch deck exists, mention it in the paragraph after the logline and offer to send it with the script.