Script consultant, producer and former development exec, Daniel Manus, has written a highly detailed and insightful post on query letters. In fact, I’d say it’s the most complete discussion that I’ve seen on the web.
Here are some snippets:
As for format, your query letter should be about a half page, and never more than ¾ of a page. And while there are different ways to structure your letter, I recommend the following:
The greeting; your title; then a 2 sentence introduction to you which should include anything that is special about you that pertains to your story, writing, or the film business in general that will set you apart.
Next, comes your logline. The logline should be 35 words or less and contain no more than 2 commas. It needs to make clear the genre, the major conflict, and what makes your script different – basically, it’s hook. It needs to contain action words, not just passive, descriptive words (for example, “chooses” is passive, “is forced to choose” is active). It should tell us a bit of the set up or starting point, who the main character(s) is, and then whatever the main story is about.
Then, 1-3 short (!) paragraphs about your story, your main characters, what happens, etc. I always like it when one paragraph is a bit more descriptive and places the script in context by using comparison movies. It’s “this” meets “that.” Or “it’s in the vein of THIS and THAT.” Just make sure to use movies that are similar in genre and tone and that did WELL at the box office! Don’t use a movie just because it starred the same actor you want for your project!
Please click here for the full article. If you’re planning on sending out some query letters, it’s a must-read.
Danny’s a terrific script consultant and speaker that I respect. For those of you familiar with screenwriter Craig Mazin’s recent controversial post, you should read Danny’s rebuttal.
I got some questions for Daniel: (please see if you can contact him to answer these questions):
Heard this: an unproduced screenwriter wrote a revenge thriller on the level of Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS, emailed like mad to all the top agents, managers and production companies and got signed. Just based on one query letter? Do you hear things like this? Is this true?
How is this possible? Why would a top agency signed an unknown or read “junk mail”? Who at this top agency is reading unsolicited query letters? Do you know for a fact, that all top agencies throw out these letters? What is their policy? Are the interns reading them? Is it part of an agency’s policy to force interns to read these unknown query letters?
Let’s say I write a thriller SIMILAR TO ‘TAKEN” and maket it like crazy, would you be surprised if I sign?
And do you have any examples of option contracts from the top agencies and managers? If no, where can I find them?
How long do most option contracts last for? Do they renew contracts based one genre and trends and synopsis?
Once the writer is signed by an agent, does the agency have a huge marketing department to get word of mouth out? How does the top agencies handle their marketing?
Last and most important questions: Do agencies sent their own query letters to production companies, managers, studios, actors, models, director, Indie filmmakers etc?
Daniel, do you write letters or maketing packages for Agencies?
And lastly, what’s the longest option contract you seen (example, do they last for more than 5 years or months or 1 year)?
When does an option contract end?
Some excellent questions. I have no affiliation with Daniel (I just thought he wrote an excellent article and was happy to give him a shout-out), so you should definitely head over to his site and post some questions.
I will say this though. There are many creative ways to get an agency to take notice. Bottom line is that once they do, you have to have the script(s) to back up the hype. No agency will sign someone based on a query letter alone. So crafting quality scripts should always be job number one.
Secondly, an agency uses his/her contacts to get the word out. They become an agent because they have these industry contacts. Michele Wallerstein would be the one best qualified to answer questions about Agency practices — not Daniel. She literally wrote the book on it. 🙂
I’ll forward some of your questions to her to see what she has to say.
Andrew, I was just reviewing your questions again, and I think that many of them are literally answered in Michele’s book. I would highly recommend picking up a copy. It’s a great read.
Also, Michele has a wealth of experience with query letters, the business in general and helping out aspiring screenwriters. Her rates are quite reasonable, so it certainly couldn’t hurt to get in touch with her for an hour of consulting. It would be money well spent.
Sorry I’m just seeing this now, but Andrew on the off chance you’re still looking for this info – Yes, I would generally be surprised if that writer was signed to a MAJOR agency off a random unsolicited query letter. It doesn’t happen. There are small boutique agencies that read query letters, and the ones that accept unsolicited materials are listed on the WGA website. But no, no one signs ANYONE off a query letter. They would read the script, then ask for ANOTHER writing sample, then meet with them – and THEN would sign them. And no, they do not have marketing departments – the agent IS the marketing department. That’s their job – to create buzz for their client.
And yes, if you wrote a script just like Taken and that was all you had, I would be surprised if you were signed.
Agencies do NOT write query letters – in fact, no one IN the business writes query letters. They are only for writers and people still trying to break in. Once you’re in, you just make a call and send the script. You use your contacts to get your clients and projects read. So, query letters are basically hollywood’s way of knowing when someone is an outsider trying to break in.
I cannot share my option contract samples, but average options are for 6 months to 2 years. I have seen options up to 4 years, but would not suggest any writer do that.
Yes, I write query letters for my clients, but no, I do not do any marketing for agencies. I’m not a marketing person -I’m a script consultant and development exec. Hope that answers your questions, please feel free to email me if you would like to get some feedback on your projects. You can check out my website and contact me at http://www.nobullscript.net.
Good luck, and thanks Trevor!
Danny — Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to respond to Andrew. I think that’s some really insightful information you’ve provided. I may promote this to a main blog post so everyone can benefit.