Monday, April 17, 2006


1) Have you got any recommendations for foreign authors/screenwriters trying to make it in the US? This concerns not only me, but several other screenwriters, mostly French, mostly with very European projects in their portfolio. Personally, I managed to get some attention on American Zoetrope. My latest SP, very American, is definitely gathering some moss, and I have become ferociously addicted to rewrites. This is not something arrogant French authors are used to doing, but I’ve learnt a couple of lessons and become very flexible. I also managed to secure an attorney. So far virtually no one has read my work, except let’s say a dozen professionals (the name Aaron Kaplan comes to mind, for instance) who keep asking for copies, project after project. What’s the next step? An agent? Or production companies? Right now I have no real cash left, and I’ve retreated back to Europe. I thus have no possibility currently of meeting people in LA.

2) I've got a strange situation brewing and I'm wondering if you might have any thoughts. I'm over in Iraq right now and have just had a script based on the pre-war SpecOps raid of Bamerni Airfield optioned by a Turkish film company. I've got another very similar script and a comedy both in marketable shape. What's my next step? Especially given the fact that I'm not physically present to pitch . . . It feels like I've cracked the door open but now I need to step through into the room and I'm just not sure how.

Congratulations on your option, but an option in the Turkish film market is unlikely to provide you with any admission ticket to Hollywood. (Did you ever see the TURKISH WIZARD OF OZ?)

Believe it or not, your being in Iraq or France isn’t all that different from a writer living in Missoula, Montana.

Most communication between writers and Hollywood is through letters, e-mails and phone calls. Since you cannot attend parties to mingle and network, you’ll have to make contact in other ways.

Firstly, you must exhaust all your existing contacts. Be sure to squeeze them of any helpful information and leads.

If you haven’t earned more than five thousands dollars as a screenwriter, you can enter the NICHOLL FELLOWSHIP, a screenwriting contest sponsored by the ACADEMY OF MOTION PICTURE ARTS AND SCIENCES. This year’s deadline is May 1st. Being one of the five winners will create plenty of buzz for you and the script – and provide you with 30K of writing money. Even finalists and semi-finalists can catch some attention from this contest. Scoring high marks with peer reviews (on sites like AMERICAN ZOETROPE) carries very little clout in the world of Hollywood, and you’ll be hard-pressed trying to spin that into something meaningful.

Although many hate the dreaded query letter, they DO work in terms of getting someone to read a script. Since you are both out of town and don’t have many opportunities to visit, it is one of your few options. Query letters are a way to let executives know who you are and what your script is about.

Although you'll want to query production companies, managers and agents – your efforts might be best served by pursing management.

The likelihood of you being able to find the right production company for your script can be very difficult. Finding a manager might be a bit easier. Also, once situated with a manager (who will help guide you), he will come up with a logical strategy for marketing you and your scripts. Managers are a good choice for new writers who are developing their craft and business acumen.

Regardless of who you decide to query, you can obtain contact information from websites like DONE DEAL PRO or (something more expensive like) STUDIO SYSTEM. Look for produced movies in a similar vein as your screenplay. Locate the production company behind that film and query them. Find out what executives attend (for instance) the SCREENWRITING EXPO PITCH MART and query them. Visit message boards to inquire about experiences others may have had with particular individuals you’ll query. (Since you may not be able to meet any of these people you’re dealing with, this sort of information could be invaluable.)

Here is an example of a query letter and some suggestions (from my LOGLINE ARTICLE).

Dear Mr. Thalberg,

I am currently seeking representation for my new sci-fi adventure MINORITY REPORT.

In a future where criminals are apprehended before they perpetrate the crime, a cop is falsely accused of a murder he has not yet committed and goes on the lam to prove his innocence.

I am a former New York City police officer and an avid reader of science fiction. I’ve combined my expertise in both fields to write this screenplay.

May I send you a copy?


John Smith

Avoid silly, self-effacing, or obsequious letters. Be professional. Often, authors of comedy scripts try to pen funny letters. In some cases, it is effective. However, if the letter does not garner a chuckle, this can kill the script. Allow the pitch itself to earn the laugh. Sadly, goofy letters are often passed around the mailroom for a late afternoon chuckle before landing in the recycling bin. Or even worse, they are commemorated on the “wall of shame.”

Keep all information in the query letter pertinent. Avoid superfluity. For instance, a writer will tell an agent that she is a “grandmother of 12,” or another will say, “I have an accounting degree.” Only include what is absolutely necessary. No one cares if a scribe has an MBA from Michigan State. However, it makes sense to say, “I have a BA in film from….”

Do not include scenes from your screenplay in a query letter. Scenes, descriptions of your characters, action or actual dialogue can seem very unappealing when taken out of context. Screenplays deserve to be read in their entirety – as a whole.

Avoid insignificant praise. Never include readers’ positive comments. “My college film professor says it’s the best screenplay he’s read this semester.” “The local mailman said my depiction of the United States Postal Service is accurate and riveting.” “Mary Jones at Warner Brothers loves the script but says I must have an agent.” If Mary Jones loves the script, she will do everything within her power to obtain the script. (Mary Jones is politely blowing off the writer.) Occasionally, these quotes offer an unwitting sub-text that backfires on the screenwriter. Also, avoid hyperbolic descriptions of the screenplay. “It’s an action packed, thrill-a-minute character study with a romance that will break your heart.” Any kind of hype is unprofessional. It is silly for a screenwriter to praise his own work. It goes without saying that the scribe believes his “characters are riveting” and his story “important for our times.”

Do not include supplemental material. For instance: “With the hopes of enticing you to read my new screenplay, SHAME: A GIRL WITH AN STD, I have enclosed an eight-page booklet about syphilis.” The odds of the pamphlet being read are slim to none. Also, don’t send food or candy with a letter. No one in their right mind will eat food sent to them by a complete stranger.

Do not make casting suggestions (unless you are targeting an actor’s representative), do not suggest marketing concepts, and do not offer up taglines. You can refer to an actor to communicate the type of protagonist. ("Think of someone like Tom Cruise.")

Proofread the letter. One would believe writers have a strong command of their language. However, query letters are often littered with misspelled words. This also includes grammar and syntax errors.

Letters should be sent to a specific person. Be sure their name is spelled correctly. Refer to the “Hollywood Creative Directory,” the Internet, or call for the correct spelling. In general, calling ahead is a good idea. Double check to make sure the executive is still employed with that company. The agent’s name may appear in the “Hollywood Agents and Managers Directory,” but turnover is fierce, and the agent at UTA today could be at CAA tomorrow.

Avoid writing the letter by hand. Of course, an equal amount of care should be given to the envelope.

Avoid including “yes/no” self-addressed postcards - unless requested.

NEVER send the script along with the letter – unless requested.

When your script is solicited, do not ask that it be returned, and do not include a self-addressed stamped manila envelope for its return – unless requested.

The same applies for e-mail queries. There are services that will write your e-mail query and blast it all over town. However, those queries are often too long and laborious and make it difficult to enable one to "see the movie." Brevity is essential in a query letter. Those services might have an easier time getting your e-mail into every computer in town, but you should, at least, write the query.

Also, send the query to everybody. For instance, you might do some research and learn that a small prodco only makes horror movies. As a result, you decide not to send them a query for your comedy. But, unbeknownst to you, they have decided to look for material outside their trademark genre – a missed opportunity because you censored yourself. Let others determine what material is right for them. All they’ll do is say, “We don’t make those kinds of movies.”

Like war, there is no magic bullet in Hollywood. It is difficult for anyone to break through and earn a living. Living far away and being unable to visit makes it even harder. Strive to write the sort of movies Hollywood produces. (Having European projects in your portfolio doesn’t necessarily sound like an exciting proposition from my side.)

Finally, use the resources around you. Forge a career in the European market, which could lead to capturing the attention of executives in Los Angeles. Hollywood might salivate for the writer of the number one movie in Turkey.

Send questions to:


Post a Comment

<< Home

Free Blog Counter