After spending months, if not years writing your screenplay, your next step is to try and get it into the right hands. This step is perhaps the most difficult because Hollywood producers, directors, and managers are swamped with hundreds of queries each and every week. In order to make your query stand out from the hundreds of others you need to make sure that it is: brief but complete, that it grabs the attention of the reader, that it effectively summarizes the plot points and characters of your film, and that it provides the reader with directions on how they can contact you.
STEP ONE: Keep It Brief But Complete
When writing your query always follow the instructions of the agency or producer you are targeting. This point is especially important when addressing the issue of length and layout of your query. If the instructions say one paragraph summary of your film, don’t send a ten-page treatment send only a one-paragraph summary. This also means that the length of the one paragraph needs to be reasonable. A reasonable one paragraph summary should range between half a page and three quarters of a page.
Secondly you will want to address a specific person. If you can’t locate the name of a specific person to target your query at then address the query to the development department, the production department, etc. If a specific person is listed make sure that you spell their name correctly and that you address them with the correct prefix, i.e. Mr., Ms., or Mrs. However, you don’t want to make assumptions about their tiles. If a title or gender is not implied within the article then don’t use a prefix at all as many female film executives in California have masculine sounding names, and you don’t want to get a black mark against your query by addressing a female executive as a Mr.
If submitting you query via email, you don’t have to include the company address, however, if you are submitting it via a hard copy in the mail or in a fax, then you will want to properly format your query as a business letter.
City, State Zip
Dear Full Name:
Conclusion with contact information
Contact information can usually be found in the submission guideline section of the company’s website. If the company that you want to query has a submission guideline section read it carefully to make sure that you are formatting your query properly, and that your screenplay fits the description of what type of material that company is looking for.
STEP TWO: Create an Attention Getting Introduction
While the format of the letter or email will slightly vary from one another, the body of the query for both a hard copy style query and an e-query will be the same.
The first body paragraph is the introduction to the concept of your screenplay. It should tell the reader the tile of your screenplay in CAPITAL LETTERS, what genre it belongs to, tell what movie(s) it is similar to, and it should also contain your screenplay’s logline.
A logline is a one or two sentence summary of the plot of your screenplay. Basically it states who does what and why.
To format your logline opener start by comparing the plot of your screenplay to the plot of two or more popular movies. Link relevant, but seemingly unrelated films together to heighten your reader’s interest. Make them wonder how the two movie concepts could be fused together.
EXAMPLE: DIRTY DANCING meets A WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S, SHAG is a coming of age film about a group of girlfriends who travel to Myrtle Beach for one last fling before transitioning into their adult lives of marriage, college, and other responsibilities.
As you can see above the opening sentence contains a lot of information. It identifies what movies it is similar to (Dirty Dancing and A Weekend At Bernie’s), what the title of this screenplay is (SHAG), who is involved (group of girlfriends), what they do (go to Myrtle Beach for one last fling), why they do what they do (transitioning into adulthood), and what genre the screenplay belongs to (coming of age).
STEP THREE: Create a Synopsis of Your Screenplay
The next section of the body consists of three paragraphs, one for each act in your screenplay. Each paragraph should briefly present the plot points and major twists and turns in the act, and it should also introduce the main characters of your story.
Character names should be in all capital letters, and should then be followed by a brief description of who they are and their importance to the development of the story.
The first paragraph in this section will summarize Act I, or basically the first half an hour of your film. It should introduce the main characters, describe how the film opens, describe the events that lead the main characters into the main conflict, and describe the main conflict of the film itself.
The next paragraph will then describe Act II. This paragraph will probably be the shortest of the three Act paragraphs. It should describe the character development and the plot twists.
The paragraph that describes Act III will probably be the longest of the three act descriptions because this is usually the act that has the most action in it. You will want to make sure that you describe the low point (where the main character faces defeat or where it looks like they won’t be able to get out), the climax (where the tension is at its peak), and finally the resolution of the film. Yes, you do need to tell the reader how the film ends and how things are resolved.
STEP FOUR: Writing the Conclusion
While in most situations the conclusion would include more information about the actual story, the query conclusion does not. Instead it is intended to entice the reader to request your screenplay, and to provide them with your contact information. To do this, start by mentioning any awards that you a screenwriter have won, and/or any honors and awards that this particular screenplay has won. Then thank the reader for their time and mention that if they would like to read a copy of TITLE then you would be happy to send them a copy. Close with your contact information including phone number and email address.
STEP FIVE: Format and Submit Appropriately
The most important thing to remember in this business is to FOLLOW DIRECTIONS. Instructions on how to submit your query will vary from producer to producer and from company to company. Official websites are a great place to find submittal instructions. Look for a link to SUBMISSION GUIDELINES or QUERY GUIDELINES. These guidelines will tell you (1) if the company accepts unsolicited queries, (2) what the preferred submittal method is, (3) who to contact, and (4) what kind of material they are interested in.
When you start looking for submission guidelines you will soon realize that most of the big studios and producers don’t accept unsolicited materials regardless of how it is submitted.
The term “unsolicited queries” means that the agency or producer did not initiate the relationship or request the material.
You may be wondering how these production companies and big name producers get new material when they don’t accept unsolicited queries? The answer to this question is a bit complicated. Many larger studios and big name producers find screenplay ideas through agent submittals and through smaller production companies so it may be in your best interest to also query writers’ talent agencies as well as production agencies. You can find a list of talent agencies at the Writers Guild website.
The main online forms of submission are e-queries and online forms. E-queries are queries submitted via email. In this instance the guidelines will probably include length guidelines, attachment guidelines, contact email address, contact name, and what you should type in the subject line.
EXAMPLE: Production Company XYZ is looking for a horror screenplay in the $1-3 million dollar budget range. Submit a one-page synopsis to Brian in development at firstname.lastname@example.org and put QUERY in the subject line.
In this case you are given the contact name, the subject line, the email address, the genre the company is currently looking for, and the specifications for the query format. You should not send this production company anything other than what they are asking for, as sending in something other than what is asked for just wastes your time and theirs.
Form submissions are online data collecting devises used by production companies to get the information they need to select screenplays to look at. Usually forms ask for your name, address, phone, email, logline, and synopsis.
While most of the production companies that accept unsolicited queries now also accept e-queries or form submissions, there are still many companies that only accept snail mail queries. If you are sending in a hard copy query, make sure that it is neat in appearance, and that it is on clean white paper. Don’t use preprinted novelty paper or fancy letterhead as this will only act as a distraction from the content of your query. Instead keep things structured, simple, and specific. What this means is that you should follow the usual format for a business letter, only include important information, and it should follow the instructions provided by the company including guidelines for length, format, and to whom the query should be directed at. If you expect a response you need to also include either a self addressed stamped envelope or a self addressed stamped postcard.
By following these simple steps, you can generate a query letter that producers and agents will want to read.