Sunday, June 18, 2006


In some of your responses, you've advised one writer to stop being "a pussy," and another "to start making funeral arrangements" if he thinks he's going to die if he doesn't sell a script soon. Could you expound on the expected mind-set of the professional writer? It seems that talent without the proper mind-set or attitude will not take a writer very far. It also seems that the profession of screenwriting may not suit the timid, introverted, overly sensitive type. Or maybe there's a place for anyone who can write as well as Mamet?

Save the drama for the screenplay. All the histrionics and egotism is draining and counterproductive – hence, my occasional glib comment. I can only refer to my observation of another’s mindset, but for most who collect a paycheck writing, it’s simply a job. So the “dream” factor wanes quickly as one struggles with the ups and downs of the profession – like any occupation. As writers progress professionally, there are always new hurdles. For instance, many writers spend long frustrating years struggling to get their first paid gig. The excitement wanes as the realities of deadlines, endless rewrites and hard-to-please producers/executives rise up. Then years of hard work selling a spec or two and landing assignments (collecting paychecks) can still lead to frustration if nothing is produced. And if something is produced, it can frustrate if it doesn’t represent the writer’s intent (or has been severely rewritten by others). Since writers (hopefully) put a lot of thought, heart and soul into their work, ego is always involved, but it should be tempered with common sense. A “sensitive” writer may have a difficult time surviving the process. Most may never get through that first job. (Randall “Braveheart” Wallace has the soul of a poet yet survives and thrives.) The business is filled with all different sorts of writers. Some are introverted and some extroverted. Some are as good as Mamet and many are not. It’s a caucus of diversity, where the only common denominator in mindset should be the ability to tell a story. (Both on paper and in a room.) Two important tools a writer must carry in his survival kit are the need to tell stories and a business acumen (since a writer is his own business). The rest he’ll just have to learn along the way.

I recently responded to a call for material by a Mid-Sized Management & Production Company. The Story Editor there liked my writing sample - but it wasn't the genre they rep. So I sent across a new piece (genre friendly) and am waiting for a response from it...The question is, as this person I'm dealing with is a Story Editor, who "wants to get people excited about my work" - just how much of a serious position am I in to land a Manager? Is this typical of how a Management Company works? Do they have Story Editors field material - then send it onto their bosses once they are happy?

Every management company works differently. Based on the business model you’ve described, it seems like you’re not quite in a serious position to land a manager – yet. The management/production company is a clever hybrid because it can develop material under its management banner and not pay the writer (in this case the dangling carrot is possible representation), and can then shop the script around under the prodco letterhead. If the company is reputable and the managers and staff sincere (like the many I know) then the work you do is not in vain. I cannot second guess the motives of this Story Editor. I would suspect if he spends time helping you develop a project, he has something planned. He must feel you have some ability since developing a script with an untalented writer is a fruitless and futile process. Having an insider help you to develop a screenplay (provided he knows what he’s talking about) isn’t necessarily a bad thing – regardless of the outcome. Communicate your expectations of this writing process with the Story Editor and ask him about his goals. Ultimately, the person in the best position to answer your questions here is the Story Editor himself.

I was wondering if you had any insight for those of us seeking work as television writers. Would it be effective for us to send query letters pitching our specs to production companies, showrunners and agents? I’m aware of submitting to the ABC/Disney Fellowship, Warner Bros. Workshop, et al, but I’d like to know if using the same techniques as feature writers for getting work can be helpful, since I haven’t come across much advice beyond going the contest route.

The routine for peddling a TV script isn’t much different than the process in general. I don’t think there are many shows looking for specs to prime their primetime pumps. Your goal should be to get on staff of a show, so send queries to anyone and everyone you can. Just expect a lot of rejection/”no solicitation” letters. (Remember that most shows will not read specs for their own shows.) TV queries are no different from feature queries. Query a TV lit agent like you would a feature agent. Let him know what script you’re peddling (like a spec for MY NAME IS EARL) and, additionally, let him know what else you've written (without details that could detract from your “EARL” spec) – like a pilot, a feature, a stage play. TV agents often like to look at more than one piece of writing. But remember, there are many ways to the wheel. One writer I know queried a group of TV producers telling them how much he admired their work and wanted to meet with them. He met with several – which led to him passing off a spec and eventually landing on staff. His career took off and he has had great success in both TV and film. A good friend of mine got his first staff writing job (on THE X FILES) based solely on a LAW AND ORDER script that his wife passed on to a friend of a friend who worked on the show. (There was no agent involved.) Coincidentally, I met a woman yesterday who is now on staff with that same friend for the new Kevin Williamson show, and she got her start in the Warner Brothers Workshop with one spec and landed her first job on THE WEST WING.

Things have been hectic, so blog entries will trickle out over the next month. Thanks for your patience. Send questions to

Saturday, June 03, 2006


My dilemma is that after 2 straight months of querying managers, (not onto agents yet) 10 letters every Monday like clockwork, I must say the results have been rather dismal (2 passes and no word whatsoever from the other what...78?).

Now I've studied your logline construction post and I guess my question is--is this normal practice for managers? One would think in order to foster the career of an emerging writer, a manager would at least read said writer's script (or the first ten pages at least), no?



A manager (or anyone looking for writers) cannot waste time simply soliciting scripts for the sake of it. And most in the business who consider new writers are inundated with opportunities to read scripts. The supply far far outweighs the demand. Never expect anyone to respond to your query other than favorably. A manager could get hundreds of queries a month, and it would be a full-time job to respond to them all. Some writers take great offense and deem it rude if their letter is left unanswered one way or another.

Get over it.

We are inundated with letters via the U.S. Postal Service, fax machines and e-mails. There are even services that will write the letter for you and “blast” it to hundreds of e-mail addresses.

Since many writers do not have connections or access within the industry, they write letters to agents, producers and managers, hoping to stir up interest in their work. These missives are referred to as “query letters.”

Although there are those who feel query letters don't work, they do work. If the letter has the right stuff.

In an earlier blog entry (“Foreign Correspondence”), there is a simple, clean example of a query letter and some things to avoid when querying.

For instance, avoid casting the movie or offering up marketing ideas (leave that to the pros). Only pitch one script per letter. (Don’t let anyone know about your thirteen scripts that haven’t sold.) Don’t overstep the boundaries of common sense.

In one letter, a bold, neophyte said, “I am asking 1.2 million (negotiable) for this script. $500 grand down, and the balance on the first day of filming the movie. (This movie has a gross potential of 80 million dollars.) Contact me after 2:00pm. I take college classes during the day.”

Because of lawsuits, many companies will not even look at query letters - which are considered “unsolicited”. (However, I’m not sure how anyone knows it’s a query unless they look at it.) I have, on occasion, actually received query letters for the query letter – asking permission to query.

There are all sorts of query letters. Some try to be cute. Some try to be memorable. Some try to be hilarious. Some strike a theme like being written on papyrus – if it’s pitching an Egyptian epic. Others come with bribes – like food or toys or some interrelated piece of paraphernalia.

There is a website that publishes goofy query letters from hapless writers. The demographics for the site can’t be geared for those in the industry, since we’ve seen all sorts of postage-stamped tragedies. (Do paramedics visit Ironically, many writers visit the site for hours of entertainment – never realizing that their own letters are probably just as goofy.

You cannot go wrong with a short letter that features one brief paragraph indicating your intent, one brief paragraph to convey the concept (via a logline), and a final, brief paragraph to introduce yourself. No particular order necessary.

Some might want to lead off with the logline or some sort of question to pique the reader's interest. In a query for MINORITY REPORT, an opening question to pique interest might go: Would the world be a better place if we had the ability to capture criminals before crimes were comitted?

If the letter goes over a half page (including letterhead and addresses) you’ve entered the Yucca Flat of 8 ½ x 11.

There is no real science to writing a query letter because the truth is that regardless of how beautifully written or clever the letter might be, if the concept (logline) doesn’t grab the reader, it’s a pass. (On the bright side, a well-written letter could land you a job as the manager’s assistant.)

On a rare occasion, an exec might be inspired by the letter itself - in spite of the lackluster concept. But I’d rather find a serviceable letter surrounding an amazing movie concept.

Let’s dissect the body of your letter:

I am a screenwriter currently seeking representation for myself and my new comedy spec, A LITTLE OFF THE TOP.

After intercepting a ransom demand, a barber--masquerading as a private eye, reluctantly joins forces with an angst ridden teen in attempt to rescue the daughter of a stuffy millionaire at a fraction of the cost.

I studied screenwriting at AFI where I completed several high-concept screenplays
and at LACC where I developed and directed several short films.

May I send you a copy?

At quick glance, it looks good. Short and simple. No misspellings.

First sentence: “I am a screenwriter….”


Not the best way to start the letter. Since it’s an easy assumption that you’re a screenwriter, you don’t need to say it. 99% of all queries are from screenwriters. If you were the producer (and not the writer), you could include that because it’s out of the ordinary.

“…currently seeking representation for myself and my new comedy spec, A LITTLE OFF THE TOP.”

This feels redundant – especially the “for myself and my new comedy spec….” Why not condense it with something like: “I am currently seeking representation for my new comedy….” Leave out the word “spec.” Its usage here feels superfluous.

So, your first sentence is pretty much a disaster.

But since screenwriting is more about constructing a story rather than syntax, per se, we can let this slide. After all, the heart of the query is the logline:

After intercepting a ransom demand, a barber—masquerading as a private eye, reluctantly joins forces with an angst ridden teen in attempt to rescue the daughter of a stuffy millionaire at a fraction of the cost.

The logline itself is competently written. (You’ve clearly had good tutelage.)

The misfire here is the concept itself. I'm going to assume this is an accurate representation of your script. It would be retarded for you to offer up anything else.

In a nutshell, this concept is unlikely to entice anyone into soliciting the script (and you’ve got the empirical evidence to back that up).

Although the idea of “intercepting a ransom demand” has some sort of potential, there is little “cause and effect” within this concept. Everything feels slapped together. It isn’t clear why a barber is involved in any of this or why he poses as a private eye. Then an angst ridden teen enters the mix and has no obvious relation to the barber or the kidnapping.

This might make a tiny bit more sense, for instance, if the angst ridden teen were the shampoo girl, and the kidnap victim the daughter of “Fantastic Sam.” At least there would be some connective tissue to the various parts instead of the disparate nature of the logline as presented.

At this point, no one will read further. It isn’t necessary.

I’ll continue.

I studied screenwriting at AFI where I completed several high-concept screenplays….”

Why didn’t you pitch one of those?

“…and at LACC where I developed and directed several short films.”


May I send you a copy?”

This last part will only be noticed as the bottom half of the paper is eaten up by the shredder.

I understand why your letter has not been received favorably. Do you?

If you're not getting any responses, it's most likely your concept and no fault of the manager.

You could get all sorts of advice and assistance on how to write a query letter. But, the fact is a letter is only as good as the concept it's pitching.

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