QUERY, QUERY, QUERY 1 Write a Query Letter letting producers, agents, actors, development executives know what you have written and that it is offered for their consideration. Chris Writer 1333 Experience Road Seattle, WA 98000 October 23, 1997 Joe Storey Director of Development Last Chance Films Dear Mr. Storey, I've recently completed a screenplay entitled Illegal Entry I would like to submit to your company for consideration. It is a thriller about an illegal alien who witnesses a crime but is afraid to come forward because she will be deported. A police detective takes a professional interest in her which turns romantic, and he is torn between pushing her to go on the record and getting sent back to the country she fled, or following his heart and helping her to protect her anonymity. The criminal the illegal alien can finger finds out there's a witness and comes after her... In addition to my years of social work during which I counseled illegal aliens, I've researched immigration laws and the itinerant worker culture to provide a colorful and accurate backdrop for the story. I've had several articles published in the local papers, and have published a short story in a national magazine which was well received. I've provided a self-addressed stamped postcard for your convenience. I look forward to receiving your response. Sincerely, Chris Writer encl.; SASE postcard DO Keep it short. Don’t Brag. Don’t Price it. DO credit yourself. Don’t say your Mom liked it! DO make the description count! DO include an SASE DO email when possible!
GET A DATABASE! 2 There are several places to locate the names, emails, addresses and networking information you will need to get your screenplay or query read. Here are just a couple: www.HCDonline.com Hollywood Creative Directory (19.95 per month) www.IMDB.com (Pro version will allow you access to contact information and message boards. 12.95 per month) The more active you are, the better chance you have of getting attention. DO Make a profile on IMDB. DO Network on the Message Boards. DO post your work. DO query agents, producers and development executives! Don’t SPAM people. Don’t Send out sub-standard examples of your talent.
WRITE THE BOOK! 3 For the last several years there has been a greater movement towards writing the novel version of your script, and selling rights to both the novel and screenplay at the same time. The large agencies (CAA, ICM, William Morris) and some small agencies (Paul S. Levine, Charlotte Gusay, among others) handle book-to-screenplay deals.
BECOME A READER 4 This works better for those in Los Angeles and New York, but it can be a viable way to learn and get your own work looked at when the opportunity arises. Almost any writer can find a job as a story analyst; that is, as a reader . It pays almost nothing, but the experience teaches you what works and especially what doesn’t work in a screenplay. You will also make connections. Reading for local productions companies and festivals can be an answer to not being in Hollywood. A Texas student got his first deal as a screenwriter while working as a reader.
ASSIST SOMEONE 5 Where ever you are, there are always local crews and productions looking for assistants. If you are able to take a position in production, this can work toward your networking angle and land you that opportunity. If you become an assistant to a TV staff, for example, you may get that chance to write for a TV show. It is not unusual. The same is true for agent assistants, producer assistants, script coordinators, and even production assistants. You will meet people and learn about the business. Many writers and other film professionals begin this way. Even being an extra can sometimes get you in the same room with the right people. Then you just need to have your pitch on tap.
SHOOT IT! 6 Get hands on and write a short film and shoot it. Many films are made under 1000k on a visa. With Youtube, and other video sites like it, along with festivals and contests, you can get a lot of attention with a short piece of film you might not get with a piece of paper. Work with others who want to do the same thing and exchange services to save money. The experience of producing, directing, and acting will improve your skills as a writer, plus the film might get recognized and find you valuable contacts. Hollywood types often view short films and peruse Youtube and similar sites. Filmaka ( http://www.filmaka.com/ ) is an organization that you might find helpful in terms of networking and getting your short film noticed.
DON’T BE SHY! 7 Virtually all of the strategies are aimed, at least in part, at meeting people and making contacts. Never underestimate the value of a contact. A former student and now working writer tells the story of when she was just trying to break in. She met a lowly assistant to an independent producer. This assistant went on to become a studio executive. Together, the ex-wannabe writer and ex-assistant put together a feature deal that the studio bought. Network online, in person, on the phone- always be ready to make time for someone who may know someone you want to know You will make lots of friends along the way! They don’t say “Let’s do lunch.” for nothing…
KEEP LEARNING! 8 Take classes and go to conferences, be part of meetings and groups and also join forums and seminars. Not only do you always need to keep learning, but these events will keep you in the loop with other writers, producers, people working in the industry. There are plenty of seminars, workshops, publications, conferences, expos, pitchfests, writers groups, professional organizations (including online organizations) to help you meet people and continue your education. Wherever you go, schmooze. Part of the schmoozing art is to remember that you have two ears and one mouth, and to use them in that proportion. Consult your copy of The Screenwriter’s Bible for useful writing, formatting, and selling direction.
BLOG IT! 9 Get yourself out there using the media available to you now! You never know who is watching. Literary manager Mason Novick saw Diablo Cody’s blog and contacted her about her work. Get yourself and your writing out there. Cruise http://www.storylink.com . Some established and beginning writers have even created a web site as a pitching tool and/or to post credits. Here are just three: http:// www.joelenders.com/Joe_Lenders_Credits.html http ://www.ettanin.com / ; http ://spectrum-films.com / Perhaps, when you meet someone or deliver a pitch, you could give that person your URL and a password to your secret projects.
COMPETE! 10 recommend you look into two or three contests that seem right for your script and that have some kind of reputation behind them. Consider reviewing the Moviebytes contest ratings ( http://moviebytes.com/directory.cfm ). Some contests provide notes, and some writers have made valuable connections with people associated with the contest they entered. Contests may seem silly, but they will get your script into the atmosphere and make a great addition to your query letter when you win or make the cut! .
BECOME A PRODUCER 11 If you are a decent sales person, or you happen to have a sales or fundraising talent or background becoming a producer is not a bad idea. Meaning that you put together the sales pitch for the film and raise the money for production yourself . This is not for everyone, but examine your own talents and if you possess the key skills, go for it. Even if you don’t raise all the money, coming to the table with part of the funds will help get the project pushed through in some cases and make you a voice in the creative process of the film. .
ATTACH SOMEONE 12 You already have the script; now add talent (an actor or director) or other creative element, and—shazam!—you have a package. Do you know any talent? If so, approach them. If not, send material to talent. Don’t shoot too high. Even a local comedian or recording artist can lend some weight to a project. You may be surprised that some mid-level talent has never been approached with this offer and would jump at the chance. A-List talent may be out of reach, but it doesn’t hurt to query if you really believe your material is made for them. Don’t bank on it, but always give it a try. .
GO CORPORATE 13 Right now is not the best economic climate for corporations, but as a general rule, they love to be involved with film. Stuffy corporations or business, even local chambers and community groups may be moved to back your script financially if they feel it promotes their city, cause, product, ideology, etc. Arm yourself with some presentation tools and make an appointment to pitch. This is an un-tapped resource and everyone in the corporate world loves the glam of Hollywood. If you have the pitch talent, and the material that fits, give it a whirl! .
GET A GRANT! 14 There are many grants available for making documentaries and other films. You’ll need to do your research to find these. If your film has a great message, or sheds light on a good cause or is in service to community etc, you have a great chance of getting a grant to make the film. Also, beware of scams. Never give money or credit card info. Perhaps one place to start your search is Michigan State University’s compiled list at http://www.lib.msu.edu/harris23/grants/3film.htm .
TRY FOR TELEVISION 15 Consider approaching television and cable movie producers. There are hundreds of cable channels and TV stations looking for content (movies, sitcoms, reality shows, and so on). Lifetime churns out movies like crazy from romance novels and original screenplays. Television format is very different, so you will need to make sure you are writing properly for their acceptance. .
TELL THE TRUTH! 16 Know someone with a harrowing true tale? A real-live hero! Your own childhood ghost story? “ Based on a true story!” is a great audience pleaser and selling point! If you don’t know anyone. Get the rights to a little-known but compelling true story, through old news articles. Approach producers that specialize in true stories. Perhaps you are aware of an undiscovered novel that would be perfect for an adaption; secure the rights first and plunge ahead. Don’t narrow your view to Hollywood on your quest to get produced. .
GO LOCAL 17 Acres of Diamonds is the story of a man who searched the world for diamonds and didn’t realize there were acres of them on his own farm. Look at regional markets. Contact your state film commissioner (and nearby state film commissioners) about local production companies. A screenplay Penny Promise was produced by a Utah company. The film won "Best Feature Comedy" at two film festivals, and the screenwriter was paid. .
GO NATIONAL! 18 If you don’t find your cup of tea locally, try Nationally. These days it is easier than ever to connect overseas markets. A screenplay from the United States carries a particular weight in other countries, use that to your advantage. The BBC set up the Writer’s Room ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/ ) to assist writers interested in writing for the BBC. There is a growing market for films written and produced in Spanish, if that is your first language. If you are a Canadian, realize that production companies get tax credits for producing their film in Canada and using Canadian talent, including writers. Your research question is this: who produces or is about to produce in Canada? There may be an opportunity there for you .
GET CYBER 19 Some writers have sold their scripts through Internet marketing services as Inktip, Triggerstreet, Script P.I.M.P., and PitchPerfect (at http://www.storylink.com ). I tend to favor a focused approach rather than a shotgun approach. Nevertheless, you may find these services to be worthwhile. .
GO DIRECT 20 Consider Direct-to-DVD producers. This is still a very large market. In years to come, Direct-to-DVD productions may give way to Internet productions. The newest version of Apple TV will allow you to download media and play it on your big screen TV. In view of that, let’s look at the current Internet market next. .
NEW MEDIA WORLD 21 Atom Films was one of the first producers in this arena. Check out some of their fare at http://www.atomfilms.com and notice that productions are paid for by ads. Online TV Series, such as Quarterlife ( http://www.quarterlife.com/ ) are becoming popular. Episodes are approximately three-minutes in length. You promote your series on Youtube, Facebook, Myspace, and similar sites. The Guild ( http://www.watchtheguild.com/ ) has solicited donations from fans and has produced episodes from those donations. Internet productions such as these may be a place to start and get noticed. .